Monday, February 22, 2016

DNA mixture SNAFU a mess, but don't expect 'deluge' of innocence claims

An otherwise well-done Fort Worth Star-Telegram story on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals races opened with this comment: "The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals is about to get hit by a deluge of post-conviction claims that 'junk' science was used to convict the innocent. It could hear as many as 50,000 post-conviction cases involving the improper handling of 'mixed DNA' alone."

For the record, Grits thinks that assessment dramatically overstates matters. Yes, it's possible there are as many as 50,000 cases involving DNA mixtures statewide. But the likelihood that all will result in habeas writs, much less that those writs would ever make it past the trial-court level to the CCA, is another matter entirely.

Over the next few months we'll begin to see re-evaluations of DNA mixture analyses and learn what proportion of those 50,000 cases may have been so far off as to constitute grounds for relief. But the number will almost certainly be much, much lower than 50K. And even where bad science was used to secure a conviction, there may be other evidence against a defendant which the CCA could decide still holds up.

Similarly, reviews of bite-mark and hair-and-fiber cases involve hundreds and thousands of cases, respectively, but a much smaller number will evince errors in expert testimony so significant that a defendant may realistically expect relief. Typically bite-mark or hair microscopy were not the sole evidence used to accuse a defendant.

We're all guessing right now. No one can know for sure and I reserve the right to adjust this guesstimate based on new information. But if the number of successful habeas writs over DNA-mixture claims rises to several hundred, the process will have exceeded your correspondent's expectations. There will be some, but others surely will fall through the cracks. And, of course, in many cases re-evaluating DNA-mixture calculations won't affect the outcome at all.

For these reasons, Grits sees little evidence yet that the creation of Texas' junk science writ and the state's reviews of flawed forensics at the Forensic Science Commission will lead to vast numbers of post-conviction innocence claims. There remains significant uncertainty surrounding the process, but the fact that we don't know the outcome yet doesn't justify speculating the most exorbitant estimates.

Read more here:"


Anonymous said...

"...Harle in December 2011 acquitted Michael Morton, who had gone to prison in 1987 on a charge of beating his wife to death. Morton, Harle said, was convicted based on “junk science.” As a result, a few years ago, Texas passed the Michael Morton Act into law, which requires a more open discovery process in court proceedings.

"I was personally offended by the junk science in the Morton case,” Harle said. He said the court will be faced with similar cases of "junk science..."

Huh? What "junk science" was used in the Michael Morton case? Or is Harle just spitting out overused political buzz-words? (Let's just hope he was misquoted)

Gritsforbreakfast said...

No, there was serious junk science from the ME, Robert Bayardo, regarding BS estimates of time of death based on stomach contents. He's exactly right. I found it offensive, too.

Anonymous said...

Yep. For more of the Bayardo mess...

"They [prosecutors] still call Bayardo as a witness in criminal cases to this day"

Grand mom said...

Yes, bad forensics was not the only evidence used to convict. There was also possible snitch evidence, questionable eye witness testimony,coerced confessions, suppression of exculpatory evidence, threats to alibi witnesses, and incompetent defense lawyers for the indigent. Before the CCA refuses to overturn don't they have to examine all that other evidence?

Anonymous said...

Grits, do you happen know if the three original trial officials (DA, Sheriff & Judge) are involved in the CCA's process of elimination? Asking, because this smells a lot like the same stench hovering around the Application process for a Full Pardon - for/based on Innocence. Fwiw, a 'Rigged' process where the truly innocent and not guilty Applicant's are forced to contact the Rogue 3, seeking unanimous Letters of Recommendations. With none of the 3 (or any of their predecessors) being mandated to reply, much-less, agree in writing that they participated in railroading the innocent, fully explains - why no one ever receives replies (or mail receipts with signatures). Anyone that's still confused about the elusive Pardon, can't be helped.

*If yes. - Then you would be correct in assuming that the majority of claimants' have a snowball's chance in hell. Fwiw, anytime a game-of-chance is 'Rigged' in favor of the 'Riggers', where the cheated players are forced to request assistance from the 'Riggers', the numbers of potential wrongs being righted, dwindle. Add in the stacked charges heaped upon suspects at time of arrest and during the 120 days (+/-) in jail (ex: the contents of the pockets of those the suspect is arrested with & being on probation at time of arrest) and yes, it's easy to assume their was other evidence. But, since the majority never see a full jury trial to verdict, everyone assumes guilt. The only hope left is to pray for someone to label your wrong 'Junky' enough to qualify for post conviction assistance considerations. For those that are advised to assist the 3 in obtaining a conviction (Plea Bargain aka: Texas TapOut), the rigging loopholes disqualify them (Tappees) from any & all forms of assistance. Strangely, some entities (not associated with the 3), rely on the majority of claimants' 'not' exhausting all direct appeals and 'not' being currently incarcerated as a base of operations. Sadly, limitations like this could kill a much needed organization and not have any effect on specialty courts charged with vetting wrongs. With that: may the innocent be freed, the guilty remain chained & the rogue melt in hell.

Anonymous said...

Why there is no real justice?
Derrick Jensen's fourth premise: Civilization is based on a clearly defined and widely accepted yet often unarticulated hierarchy. Violence done by those higher on the hierarchy to those lower is nearly always invisible, that is, unnoticed. When it is noticed, it is fully rationalized. Violence done by those lower on the hierarchy to those higher is unthinkable, and when it does occur is regarded with shock, horror, and fetishization of the victims.

Derrick Jensen's fifth premise: The property of those higher on the hierarchy is more valuable than the lives of those below. It s acceptable for those above to increase the amount of property they control-in everyday language, to make money-by destroying or taking the lives of those below. This is called 'production'. If those below damage the property of those above, those above may kill or otherwise destroy the lives of those below. This is called 'justice'.

Anonymous said...

The CCA has crafted an extremely narrow path for meritorious Actual Innocence claims. You ONLY qualify if "you did not do what you were charged with"--basically somebody else or nobody committed the offense. The DNA exonorations will only qualify if they establish conclusively that you could not have been the criminal. Simply raising doubts is not enough.
I will make a Grits prediction that unconstitutional statutes will ultimately qualify for Actual Innocence