Original post. In the most recent Texas case listed on the National Exoneration Registry this morning, we learn of Johnny Adams, a Houstonian falsely convicted of drug possession. And we learn that, at least in 2009, the
On November 14, 2008, police in Houston, Texas arrested 52-year-old Johnny Adams after they confiscated a substance that field-tested positive for cocaine.
On January 9, 2009, Adams, who had a lengthy record of prior convictions for drug possession, pled guilty in Harris County Criminal District Court to a charge of possession of a controlled substance. He was sentenced to 90 days in the Harris County Jail.
Less than a month later, on February 5, 2009, the Houston Police crime laboratory tested the substance and no controlled substance was found. However, the prosecution was not informed of the result until July 2014.
The DA's office finally
the Harris County District Attorney’s Conviction Integrity Unit informed Adams and his defense attorney and joined in a state petition for a writ of habeas corpus to vacate the conviction. A trial judge recommended that the writ be granted and in February 2016, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted the writ and vacated the conviction.CORRECTION: The Harris County DA's office emailed to correct this account. It turns out, the HPD crime lab did promptly pass along its drug-test results, but the DA's office did not reveal that information either to defense counsel or the court until 2014. HCDAO conviction integrity unit chief Inger Chandler emailed this morning to say:
On March 11, 2016, the charge against Adams was dismissed.
Your post on the Johnny Adams case was brought to my attention yesterday morning. Wanted to bring to your attention that the error in this case was not HPD’s. The Brady notice that we filed with the court in 2014 (attached), contained a letter from HPD to the HCDAO notifying us of the “no controlled substance” lab result. That letter was dated 2/6/2009. I have confirmed that it was emailed to our office on that day. It got missed somewhere on our end.So, there you go. The DA's office failed to disclose the information from February 2009 to July 2014. The HPD crime lab reported it in a timely manner.
Bottom line… HPD didn’t drop the ball here. This error is an example of what caused DA Devon Anderson to revamp our whole system for handling cases with variance lab reports (ie, no controlled substance, different weight, different drug). To put it simply, our former processes had too many people involved… too many opportunities for things to get lost or jammed up in the pipeline, from initial notice to the filing of the writ. In mid-2014, DA Anderson brought a retired prosecutor on board to help us with the project, and she went through every single lab notice she could find and checked to make sure the convictions had been remedied. Some, we learned, had not. We have a list of cases that we are working through with the assistance of the Harris County Public Defender’s Office and other appointed counsel.
I’ve clarified with issue with the National Registry of Exonerations.
I would appreciate it if you would do the same on your blog.
MORE: Chandler followed up with another email to correct an additional tidbit from the exoneration registry account:
Mr. Adams was actually released from the Harris County Jail on 1/9/2009. Though he received a 90-day sentence on that day, Harris County Jail time carries 2-for-1 credit, and Adams had 57 days of credit when he entered his plea. I double-checked in our system, and he was, in fact, released on the 9th. Doesn’t excuse the error, but it does at least show that he wasn’t held after the exonerating lab results.I've edited the post above to jibe with Chandler's updated accounts. I appreciate her reaching out to clarify what actually happened in the case.
FINAL THOUGHTS: Bottom line, this case was more typical of the rest of the Harris County drug exonerations than I'd first understood - more a product of deviant prosecutorial priorities and culture, not the failure of the lab to convey exculpatory findings. From the perspective of a front-line prosecutor, for whom every "deal" on a case is a tick in the "win" column, this one resulted in a felony conviction and a sentence served. There was no incentive but righteousness for taking a win off the board, and in 2009 there wasn't anybody doing the job Inger Chandler is doing now, making sure this stuff gets fixed.
To me, these Harris County drug exonerations further highlight how high bail and pretrial detention combine to coerce pleas from the guilty and innocent alike, and this case is a perfect example. By any measure, Adams' punishment of 57 days in pretrial detention was served not as a consequence for bad behavior, but as an inducement for him to enter a plea bargain. Mr. Adams got out of jail the day he pleaded guilty. If he'd been released pretrial instead of held in jail, don't you think he might have been more likely to wait a month on his plea to see the results of a crime-lab test?