Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Hillard Fields: Recantation overturns sex-offense conviction

Dallas' latest exoneration clears the name of Hilard Fields, who was exonerated yesterday of sex assault charges for which he spent five years in prison and will no longer be required to register as a sex offender. The victim has always maintained Fields' innocence, but her mother insisted Fields be prosecuted based on a letter she claimed to have read but which mysteriously went missing; her daughter denied its existence. Yesterday, though,, reports AP, "The Dallas County District Attorney's Office supported Fields' claim of innocence in the assault case after the mother of the alleged victim recanted her claim that the victim described the crime in a letter."

Boy, talk about a false allegation ruining your life! With the "victim" all the time adamantly claiming the "offense" never occurred. Given statutes of limitations, I doubt there's a remedy under criminal law for Mommy Dearest, but what a terrible thing to do, even if you fear your underage daughter wants to date a drug dealer! Said Craig Watkins, “Unfortunately for Mr. Fields, sometimes there are circumstances where a person truly is innocent, but because of ill feelings between the accused and other adults involved, the false allegation is allowed to escalate to the point of prosecution and that’s exactly what happened in this case.  This just shines the light on the fact that DNA is not the only type of evidence that can prove a wrongful conviction.”

And speaking of non-DNA exonerations, there have now been enough of them to say at least four types predominate: Bad or dated forensic science, as in the Todd Willingham and Ernest Willis arson cases; recantation cases, like this one; and proven allegations of Brady violations or other prosecutorial misconduct. Looking back to the turn of the century, you'd have to add lying undercover cops and drug informants, leading to dozens of false convictions in the Tulia, Hearne, and Dallas "fake drug" scandals. (Notably absent from the list: There are likely as many cases involving faulty eyewitness ID as in the DNA group, but without DNA courts defer to such witnesses.) I may be missing another category (suggest other examples in the comments), but those encompass most of the post-conviction, non-DNA exonerations I can think of from the recent past. Several of these cases, like Fields', resulted in plea deals (and thus "false confessions") to avoid longer prison sentences. In many cases (I can't speak to this one) defendants received ineffective assistance from their defense counsel.

I've heard attorneys working postconviction habeas writs on the ground say DNA cases are "easy," by comparison to most non-DNA cases, which is to say incredibly hard but at least often possible under Texas law. Non-DNA cases are even more of a slog, particularly after the prisoners first habeas writ (often pro se) has been rejected. Usually there's no one silver bullet, like the recantation in this case, and appellate courts defer heavily to juries when evaluating evidence. In that sense, Mr. Fields was fortunate (comparatively speaking, if you can use that term about a man who spent his adult life in prison or on the sex offender registry over a false conviction) not only that the witness recanted but that the prosecutor's office was willing to hear out, investigate and ultimately support his innocence claim. Most DA's offices would just fight such claims tooth and nail.

Fields is not eligible for compensation because of a concurrent drug conviction, but the ruling, if sustained by the Court of Criminal Appeals, will get Mr. Fields off the sex offender registry.

Congrats to Hillard Fields, Dallas DA Conviction Integrity Unit chief Mike Ware, who gets credit for this one heading out the door, and Fields' habeas attorney (and Innocence Project of Texas board chair) Gary Udashen.


sunray's wench said...

"Looking back to the turn of the century, you'd have to add lying undercover cops and drug informants, leading to dozens of false convictions in the Tulia, Hearne, and Dallas "fake drug" scandals... "

I would say ANY informant's testimony or statement should be treated as partial evidence only, given that so many plea bargains hang on it in Texas. Without other physical evidence (not another informat-based testimony) to back up the alegations, it is hard to understand how cases like this get anywhere near a court, let alone result in a prosecution and conviction.

Anonymous said...

Fields was charged with sexually assaulting a minor in February '97. He sounds like piece of work.

Anonymous said...

According to the InnocenceProject.org, 23% of wrongful convictions (national) are because of false confessions.

This is the first for Dallas County, no?

Of course, the innocenceproject.org also states that 77% of wrongful convictions (national) are because of witness mis-identification.

Dallas County is around 95%.

For causes of wrongful convictions, the stats for the national averages don't correlate with those stats from Dallas County (unvalidated science, snitches, prosecutorial misconduct, etc).

Any guesses why?

Hook Em Horns said...

Cops lie in court all the time. If they aren't lying, their informants are. The DA frequently 'knows' this but chooses to ignore it and in criminal court, impugning the testimony of a cop is damn near impossible. Informants are easier to impugn but when you have a judge acting, many times, as an arm of the DA it just adds to the circus that many times IS criminal court.

Anonymous said...

Worth noting that there is no "exoneration" until the CCA says so. The action at the trial court is simply a recommendation.

Anonymous said...

anon 11:59-
The Dallas County Conviction Integrity Unit controls which cases go forward with an investigation for exoneration.

The Dallas County Crime Lab controls the evidence.

Only those cases where the County can't be later sued for wrongful convictions move forward for investigation.

No accountability.


wisdom of solomon said...

ATTENTION PEOPLE! I'm going to say this again. Many of you missed it the first time I made this prediction several months back and that is: "Sexual Assault" allegation(s) will be "WEAPONIZED"! Women will use this as an IED. Sexual Assault has become the new "GOLD STANDARD" criminal justice. Think about it! Murder is no big deal now unless it is a capital murder case and even then the accused gets all kinds of legal help--FREE even. People basically yawn with murder cases now days but with a sex offense, oh man, the lynch mobs comes out in force; it gets people's juices running. And even if the allegation is later proved false, as in Mr. Fields's case,a person's life is still ruined, why? Because probably 90% of American people subscribe to the HERD mentality. And on top of that, they allow the media, Fox News, Nancy Grace, for example, to do their thinking on important issues that should take careful and deliberate thought like current sex offender laws. Sad to say, but Mr. Fields's life as he knows it is over with. My advice to you Mr. Fields? GET THE HELL OUT'A TEXAS!

Old Cop said...

SEXXXXXX crimes or accusations thereof are the new Salem Witchhunts throughout Texas and the US.

The "no cooroboration necessary" rules of evidence and the new "never ending period of limitations" only adds to the too readily available false accusations, false arrests, false convictions, and life altering circumstances for a man or woman who find themselves on the wrong end of a vindictive "victim", a law enforcement system reluctant to put in the time to thoroughly investigate an allegation, or a well intentioned but out of control victims advocacy group.

Yes, I agree with the poster who said that the crime has been "weaponized" and No, I am not a bleeding heart liberal. I have had extensive investigative and prosecutorial experience with such cases over the period of 40 plus years.

Anonymous said...

So now they should arrest the mother and let her sit in jail for five years and sue her for the costs of prosecuting/incarcerating Fields. A message needs to be sent to women who are considering bringing false charges against men in the future, that this type of behavior will not be tolerated.

Anonymous said...

I personally have a friend that contemplated accusing her ex of an offense toward their kids. She wanted full custody. After much arguing, persuading and praying she reluctantly decided it would serve no good purpose. I was appalled that she would ever think to do something like that. Yes, I am a woman and it makes me sick and ashamed. Women definitely have the upper hand where this issue is concerned and we know it too. I dont know, but it seems a little scary to me.
Scary days if you are a male.

PirateFriedman said...

Sex crimes being weaponized? Nothing new there. There have been evil women since the beginning of time, manipulatng men to do crazy stuff and spewing lies.

Evil men, evil women. Watch who you associate with and be careful who you believe.

Anonymous said...

On their best day a man cannot out evil a woman.

Anonymous said...

Anon 11:59

"Fields was charged with sexually assaulting a minor in February '97. He sounds like piece of work."

believe me, if there was a credible case against this man for sex assault against a child, he would have been more than accused of such. Stop trolling and being an asshole.