Thursday, March 17, 2005

More high-stakes forensics where accuracy is optional

While the Governor plans to study what's wrong with the justice system, the already-obvious flaws are screaming out at Texans from the daily headlines. The Houston Chronicle this week reports that "death sentences of at least three Texas inmates could have been based on faulty work by HPD's ballistics division."

The potentially wrongfully convicted death row inmates are Martin Darughon (granted a new trial in September), Willie T. Washington and Nanon Williams. All three cases involved the same HPD ballistics expert. In the latter two cases, he not only misidentified the bullet markings but got the caliber of the weapon wrong. More examples of how Texas justice views accuracy as optional when it comes to forensic science.

Anyone paying cursory attention to this topic knows what's really needed: the state must allow more complete discovery for criminal defendants, and pay for timely, independent scientific testing of evidence by defendants. Said Jeff Keyes, Draughon's appellate attorney:

"When we came into the case in 1993, we tried on numerous occasions to get the bullet and the gun to have them examined, and we were denied that by the state courts," said Keyes, who is based in Minnesota. "You take a look at the evidence many years later, and it just gives you a lump in the throat to think that this is the way the system operates."
No kidding. Hmmmmm. We'll have to study that. For more suggestions on fixing Texas forensic science crisis, see my testimony on behalf of ACLU of Texas to the Senate Criminal Justice Committee.

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