Can A Judge “Infer” Evidence Was False Based On A State Actor’s History Of Misconduct?
There was a major scandal in the Texas criminal justice system back in 2012, when it was discovered that a lab technician at the state’s Department of Public Safety had been falsifying reports in drug cases. Essentially, the lab technician had been using samples from one case to generate data in another case. This revelation eventually led prosecutors to take a new look at thousands of cases involving evidence tested by this technician.
These events ultimately led the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (CCA) to issue a decision, Ex Parte Coty, which held that a criminal defendant could argue that a “state actor” has “engaged in a pattern of misconduct sufficiently egregious” to create an inference that the evidence against them may have been falsified. The CCA said the defendant first had to demonstrate five elements for this inference to apply:
- The technician in question was a state actor.
- The technician committed multiple instances of misconduct in another case or cases.
- The technician was the same technician who worked on the applicant’s case.
- The misconduct was the type of misconduct that would have affected the evidence in the applicant’s case.
- The technician handled and processed the evidence in the applicant’s case within roughly the same period of time as the other misconduct.
If all five of these conditions are met, the burden then shifts to the prosecution to prove the technician in question committed no misconduct in this particular case.
Court of Criminal Appeals: History of Police Misconduct May Justify Reversing Drug Conviction
The CCA recently extended the Coty principles to a situation where “a police officer has demonstrably lied in multiple instances in order to convict individuals of drug-related offenses.” This new case, Ex Parte Matthews, involved a defendant convicted of felony cocaine possession in 2013. Six years later, the defendant learned that the undercover Houston police officer who identified the defendant was now “under investigation for falsifying evidence” in other drug cases. Specifically, in 2008 the officer gave false testimony in a different drug case that led to the wrongful convictions of two other men. Then in 2019, the officer allegedly falsified information to obtain a search warrant to conduct a drug raid.
Before the CCA, the district attorney agreed with the defendant that the Coty inference rules should apply to situations like this one. The CCA agreed it was appropriate to extend the principles to cases of police misconduct where the officer in question has a “proven history of falsifying evidence to secure arrests.” But the CCA reiterated that a defendant still had to prove all five Coty factors before a trial court could apply the inference that the evidence used in their case was false. The CCA therefore returned the present case to the trial court for such a determination.
Speak with a Pearland, Texas, Criminal Defense Attorney Today
Nobody should ever go to jail based on falsified evidence or police misconduct. An experienced Pearland drug crimes lawyer can review the facts of your case and help you determine if there is any reason to question the state’s evidence against you. Contact Keith B. French Law, PLLC, today to schedule a consultation.