Friday, January 04, 2008

More Than Just 15 False Convictions Overturned In Dallas Since 2001

Yesterday Dallas saw its 15th wrongfully convicted man walk out the doors of the courthouse exonerated by DNA evidence, in the most recent case a gut wrenching 27 years after his conviction.

But headlines trumpeting fifteen recent Dallas exonerations actually understate the problem. A lot more innocent people than that have seen their convictions overturned in Dallas since 2001.

At a minimum, another 24 people were wrongfully convicted in Dallas as part of the "fake drug" scandal and were ultimately exonerated. That makes the current total 39 people exonerated since 2001.

There very well may be more. It's not like anybody is keeping track.

The Innocence Project folks are doing important work, but by a longshot not the only cases with wrongful convictions have DNA evidence to re-test. Mendacious informants lie in all sorts of cases, big and small. Eyewitnesses mistakenly identify people in small-time robberies as well as sexual assaults. And slanted testimony from forensic scientists by no means can all be refuted with a DNA swab.

Charles Chatman's release yesterday was, at least, the 39th wrongful conviction overturned in Dallas since 2001.

Who will be #40?


Anonymous said...

You can be very certain that Dallas County's new Conviction Integrity department is keeping track of every overturned or otherwise wrongful conviction. That's how they'll justify their continued funding from the Commissioner's Court next year. AND, let's not forget that Bill Hill and his administration were the ones who worked tirelessly to correct all the wrongful convictions in the "fake drug" scandal and to prosecute the real offenders in those cases. It is true the fake drug prosecutions came under Hill, but he worked to change the office's policies on drug cases after learning of the officers' and informants' crimes.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Frankly, I'd dispute both aspects of this statement:

"Bill Hill and his administration were the ones who worked tirelessly to correct all the wrongful convictions in the 'fake drug' scandal and to prosecute the real offenders in those cases."

Hill knew for a fact these same informants and undercover officers were used in many more cases with real drugs, but said he was satisfied their testimony was accurate in those cases. Given at least one person we KNOW was set up with real drugs, to me that's a CYA position.

Actually, maybe the new Conviction Integrity Unit should go back and look at those cases - some of them had quite long sentences. I don't think they're currently on anybody's radar screen.

In addition, eight officers at different points during the Sheetrock affair reported fabricated positive results from field tests for drugs, but only two were ever prosecuted (and only one convicted, and his conviction was just overturned).

I don't think it's overreach to attribute these wrongful convictions to Dallas PD or to include them when compiling stats of exonerations "since 2001."

Anonymous said...

Oh, agreed, on several points. DPD was the major causal factor in the fake drug affair. The DA's office played a role, but an innocent one, as its failure was in not having the drugs tested before those trials. I think it is possible the Conviction Integrity folks should look back at the other cases the prosecuted officers worked on, but at some point, there isn't the manpower (or $$$) to do it. I'd agree it would be nice, but practically, its unlikely.

Plus, while you could construe Hill's administration's prosecution of the offending officers as CYA, you could equally construe it as the fair administration of justice that Code of Criminal Procedure 2.01 directs prosecutors to uphold. That seems to depend on your perspective, and I think both of ours are fair.

Finally, I am pretty sure more than 2 were prosecuted. This article has a note at the end saying as much, pointing out that charges are pending against at least two others. So Watkins is now working, it would seem, on finishing up the prosecution work of the scandal.

Anonymous said...

It is horrible to note that the folks responsible for these wrongful convictions are not prosecuted!

Justice would be far better served if mistakes made by prosecutors, witnesses and laboratories resulted in penalties. If not prison sentences, financial penalties that benefit prison releasees and help them to avoid recidivism would be welcome.

Like funds for earmarked for victims, prison releasees need funds that support their efforts to rebuild their lives.