Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Conviction upheld for only cop prosecuted in Dallas 'fake drug' scandal

Among the cases on the hand-down list from the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals today is an opinion in the case of Mark de la Paz vs. the State of Texas - litigation growing out of the infamous Dallas "fake drug" case where an informant helped crooked Dallas narcotics officers set up 24 people The opinion, written by Judge Cathy Cochran, opens:
Appellant, a former Dallas Police Department Narcotics detective, was convicted of (1) tampering with physical evidence for knowingly making false statements in a police report, and (2) aggravated perjury for making the same false statements under oath. The court of appeals reversed the convictions, holding that the trial court's admission of extraneous-offense evidence violated Rule of Evidence 404(b) and was harmful. (1) We granted review to address the application of Rule 404(b) in this context. (2) We find that the extraneous offenses were admissible to prove a fact of consequence-appellant's knowledge that his statements were false when he made them.
Cochran wrote that additional offenses brought into evidence were probative to rebut lies by De la Paz, noting that:
In each case, appellant's confidential informant planted fake drugs to frame an innocent person. In each case, appellant stated in his police report that he witnessed the contact or delivery. The extraordinary coincidence that appellant saw drug deals that no one else did three different times flies in the face of common sense. Under the "doctrine of chances," evidence of such a highly unlikely event being repeated three different times would allow jurors to conclude that it is objectively unlikely that appellant was correct in his Vega offense report or that he was truthful in his testimony
The unanimous, per curiam opinion was signed by all the CCA judges except Judge Sharon Keller, who may be busy getting ready for her removal hearing before the Commission on Judicial Conduct.

The Dallas "fake drug" scandal was uncovered because of a 2001 statute requiring confidential informants in undercover drug stings - a law passed in the wake of the Tulia and Hearne cases in which innocent people were set up in undercover drug stings. Then, after the law changed in September 2001 to require corroboration for a conviction, Dallas prosecutors went to look for corroborating evidence in cases involving their most important CI's testimony. That was when they discovered half of all the cocaine seized in Dallas County in 2001 and 75% of the methamphetamines was actually fake drugs used to set up innocent people.

So you never know what kind of dominoes will start to drop when the Lege passes reform bills like that.

As for De la Paz, he's not alone in his culpability, though he's paid the dearest price. At the end of the day, eight different Dallas narcotics officers including De la Paz and his partner signed their names to field tests claiming fake drugs were real, but none but De la Paz have been held to account by the courts.

If the Legislature hadn't installed the 2001 corroboration requirement, a lying informant's word would have been good enough to convict 24 innocent people, they all would have gone to prison or been deported, and this lurid tale of corruption would never have come to light. Makes you wonder if we might see similar revelations down the line if the Lege were to pass a requirement for corroborating jailhouse informants?


Rage Judicata said...

No, no, no, no, no. The cops are the good guys.

And anyway, the defendants must have done something else and gotten away with it, so they may as well go to jail for this.

Sadly, I know more people who would use these excuses (hi Seaton) than would want the cop convicted.

123txpublicdefender123 said...

Scott, my recollection of the fake drug scandal unfolding in Dallas is different than yours. Dallas never used to send drugs to the crime lab for testing unless the person went to trial. So, it was when several of the cases made by these informants, and these cops, started to get put on the trial calendar (several defendants pled before trial because they were facing life in prison), the lab tests started coming back, and they were negative for any controlled substances. Defense attorneys took it to the local ABC news station, which has a crack investigative team, and they worked on it for months, and were able to expose the breadth of the corruption.

I don't recall the "corroboration" issue being involved at all, except for the fact that the corroboration requirement is what motivated the officers to lie and say they witnessed the transactions.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

123txpublicdefender: The Dallas News reported back when the story broke that the DA went back to find corroboration for snitch cases because the new law was passed and that's what led to the testing of the "cocaine" and the discovery that it was fake. Also the timing of this discovery was IMMEDIATELY after the law took effect in early September (though DA Bill Hill didn't make it public until 1-31-01).

That tidbit about the corroboration law was included in a report I did for ACLU in 2002, and the footnote from that document gives a cite of Becka, Holly, and Wyatt, Tim, “Informant process derails five
cases,” Dallas Morning News, 1-13-02. Also, Bensman, Todd, “Informant
admits lying at trial,” Dallas Morning News, 10-14-02.

Anonymous said...

"Benavides was found dead in his home, apparently of a suicide, a week after a big demotion and just one day before he was scheduled to testify to the Dallas County Grand Jury now investigating the 2001 fake drug scandal.":
( -old link)

"the Dallas Morning News reported that in another drug case — in 2000 — some of Mr. Hill's top assistants covered up a deputy sheriff's perjury to help send a suspect to prison for 10 years on a plea bargain":

"Snow Job
Two aggressive Dallas cops. One confidential informant. Hundreds of pounds of cocaine. Fifty-three drug traffickers busted. Sound too good to be true? It was."
by Skip Hollandsworth - Texas Monthly Magazine

These are some notes I took around that time. "Conviction upheld for only cop prosecuted . . "
Kind of makes me shiver.