Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Jury to decide if Houston crime lab is liable for false testimony

Mostly due to a bit of post-session blog and politics fatigue, I've not been closely monitoring the ongoing civil rights trial in Houston over an egregious innocence case out of that city's troubled crime lab.

Arguably the City of Houston would have been wise to settle its lawsuit with George Rodriguez - an innocent man who spent 17 years in prison because a lab worker apparently lied at his trial to secure a conviction - after Judge Vanessa Gilmore denied the city's motion for summary judgment. But the city insisted on rolling the dice, so yesterday a jury heard final arguments in which the plaintiff requested $35 million, while attorneys for the city asked the jury to give the defendant nothing. We'll learn the verdict soon, one would imagine.

For more background, see this item from the Justice Project's John Terzano at TPM Cafe and these stories from the Houston Chronicle:


Anonymous said...

NICE .. This is one time I am glad the state has to spend some of my tax money!

Anonymous said...

This is just one case involving one man fortunate enough to have legal representation to fight for him. As horrendous as it is to have lost 17 years of his life and the effects of his incarceration on him and his family, one should be pondering this:

How many other innocent men still sit in prison in Texas due to the same type of actions?

How many other cases did this lab tech lie in and what about those defendants?

How many sit in prisons around the state because a conviction was more important than the truth or for any of the reasons we find that innocent people are convicted and sent to prison?

Grits, I have always been curious to know the numbers and particulars of a few things. Like how many appeals are submitted to the Courts of Appeals each year, a breakdown of the numbers reviewed, granted or denied, how many are never even read but denied for such reasons as “untimely” and how many are done by lawyers or by the prisoners themselves. How many of the defendants are represented by court appointed lawyers and how many hire lawyers themselves. How often a defendant has “taken the deal” at the urging of a public defender compared to the numbers of those who hired their own defense. How often does a public defender put on a “real” defense compared to how often does it turn out the defendant who is later exonerated only had a few of those meaningful five minute meetings with their appointed defense lawyer just before going into court?

I don't expect to find the answers to this or my next question anytime soon but I'll throw in my last one anyway.

How much longer will the sheeple continue to be outraged every time a case like this hits the news and once it's gone fall back into that complacency and continue to allow the system to continue to operate in the manner it does before they demand and act on change?

I'm not naive enough to believe everything can be fixed, but you'd think the general public would have had enough of being slapped in the face with examples like this.

Anonymous said...

The sheeple have never cared to begin with. it has always been the sole responsibility of the few that are willing to do something, or at the very least to say something to bring these things to the public eye. This will always be that way of things, and the only way to change any of this is to replace those in office with someone that actually gives a shit.

So regarding your question, the sheeple will never stand up, as they are comfortable believing that none of this affects them. Not until they are touched firsthand will they ever want to understand the mess that the system is in.

Hook Em Horns said...

Anonymous said...

How much longer will the sheeple continue to be outraged every time a case like this hits the news and once it's gone fall back into that complacency and continue to allow the system to continue to operate in the manner it does before they demand and act on change?

They dont care and have never cared. There is no outrage only lip-service from Rick Perry about how "we're gonna get this right" after the Tim Cole exoneration.

I am convinced that most people in Texas don't care about anything that does not directly impact them.

Anonymous said...

I'm from Houston and I'd be very happy if he beats the city and gets paid the money he's asking for. He does deserve it. Having someone in the system I know from first hand experience what his family went thru. It's very hard and sad to always have to worry about our loved ones safety in there and if they're eating or being mistreated by staff. They are treated like caged animals! The worst thing is that we also get treated and looked at as criminals for having someone locked and by standing by them!

That's an excellent question about; how many innocent people still sit in prison right now?!

We have a very messed up criminal justice system here in Texas! But until everyone gets involved and tries to speak up about it nothing will happen! The reality is that the majority of people have a menatlity of "lock 'em up and throw the key away"! Now don't get me wrong, I agree and I'm all for locking up the "guilty ones". My brother is serving a 2 year sentence for a robbery he didn't commit. But due to the photo line up and the fact that my brother lived in the area they went after him. This was his first time in adult court. We hired an attorney but he said if we went to trial we had to wait almost 2 years! So my brother just kinda gave up hope and said he would sign for 2 years in TDC! =( Like if that wasn't bad enough he got sick and was taken to a Pysch unit and almost died on us from deydration! We were blessed that the guards found him on time and rushed him to the E.R or I don't even wanna imagine what would have happened to him! Until you have a loved one in the system you will definately find out how messed up this system really is and everything that goes on behind those walls!!!

Anonymous said...

The system is designed to lock up innocent people. Plea deals encourage a win for the prosecution while the accused are forced to accept guilt or risk having the "book" thrown at them at trial.

It is a completely unfair choice resuling in lots of folks in prison who are definately innocent but don't want to sit in jail for years waiting for a trial that is truly rigged against them at the sentencing phase.

The choice provided is in truth no choice at all and the innocent are locked up with the guilty.

One solution would be to more clearly define the crime and punishment and then stick to the definitions. The prosecution and has far too much latitude regarding the crime to be charged and the courts have far too much latitude on the punishment imposed.

Anonymous said...

Several years ago (1994) to be exact the Texas Criminal Justice Policy Council published report titled "A Sourcebook of Arrest and Sentencing Dynamics by Race". The racial and ethnic disparities in the criminal justice processes were readily apparent then and are still apparent today.

At all levels -- those with resources are advantaged and those without resources are disadvantaged. The practical impact of this is to increase conviction rates for minorities (i.e., those without resources) and decrease conviction rates for Anglos for similar offences (i.e., those with more resources).

With regard to legal representation 59% of convicted felons had court appointed attorneys (see pg. 13) and 24% were represented by private council.

Here are some other interesting data points:

1. Represented by court appointed attorneys by race and ethicity:

Anglo - 58%
Hispanic - 66%
African American - 77%

2. Represented by private attorney by ract and ethnicity:

Anglo - 40%
Hispanic - 31%
African American - 19%

Approximately 60% of those without a private attorney (mostly African Americans and Hispanics) were sent to prison compared to 25% of those with a private attorney (mostly Anglos).

Everywhere you look in that report type of representation, race and ethnicity matter. Much of the disparate impacts are directly attributable to the impacts of the failed and destructive "war on drugs".

The criminal justice system is deeply and systemically flawed to the point that justice is largely irrelevant in the quest for convictions and political exploitation of the "tough on crime" ideology by elected officials.

The assertion that the justice system produces more injustice than justice cannot be easily dismissed because the evidence of injustice is everywhere and on a scale that is almost beyond immagination.

Justice is about balance and fairness. Where is the balance and fairness in our justice system? The deck is stacked in favor of those placing the charges and against anyone (even the factually innocent) unlucky enough to be charged with a crime -- unless they have sufficient resources to mount an "OJ" defense team with private attorneys who investigate everything and find ways to create reasonable doubt for the jury.