Lots of cases have been compromised.
District Attorney Devon Anderson’s office first learned in April that the mistaken destruction of evidence in Harris County’s Precinct 4 had likely compromised more than a thousand criminal cases, including more than 400 in which defendants had already been convicted, records released Tuesday show.
Anderson immediately launched a criminal probe, but her office did not begin informing defendants, their attorneys and even her own prosecutors about the magnitude of the problem until late August.
The records show that most of the cases were minor drug offenses, although dozens involved violent felonies in which defendants either pleaded or were found guilty and in some cases sentenced to up to 20 years in prison. Prosecutors have dismissed more than 140 cases so far.
Anderson has emphasized in past statements that evidence went first to a prosecutor who is investigating Precinct 4 in her Public Integrity Division. Her office made the records, including lists of 21,000 pieces of evidence that had been destroyed, public for the first time Tuesday in response to a public information request from the Houston Chronicle and other media outlets.
Precinct 4 Constable Mark Herman said his office immediately informed the DA’s office in March after learning that an officer had destroyed evidence in the department’s overstuffed property room. By then, he said the DA’s office had already launched a criminal investigation into the matter.
The constable’s office began supplying a longer list of cases in April.
“We were very direct, very deliberate with the DA’s office from the very beginning,” Herman said. “When this process started … we talked to them, told them we had cases compromised due to an employee destroying evidence to open cases.”
Legal experts said deciding when to disclose evidentiary problems to defendants and their attorneys is a complex matter involving numerous factors, including the status of any ongoing criminal investigation.
Geoffrey Corn, a professor at Houston College of Law, credited Anderson with already dismissing dozens of cases instead of fighting for convictions as the scandal has unfolded.
“When you have a catastrophic failure – and this was catastrophic, a DA doesn’t expect an evidence custodian who is lazy to just destroy tons of evidence – there’s got to be a lot of assessment,” he said.
Local defense attorneys criticized Anderson for what they saw as a lack of transparency and said many defendants still have not received legally required “Brady notices” informing them of the evidence destruction.
“The response from the Harris County district attorney has been nearly non-existent,” said JoAnne Musick, former president of the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association. “Despite having known of the evidence destruction since February, it took … months and a flood of negative press before they saw fit to even begin notifying defense attorneys.”
Tyler Flood, the association’s current president, praised Anderson for complying with Texas Public Records Laws and supplying the case lists.
“I think it’s commendable that they are attempting to do the right thing by releasing this information,” he said. “However, there’s an issue with the scope. We don’t know if this is covering everything that it needs to cover and how far back it goes.”
See here for the background. I don’t really have anything to add to this, I’m just noting it for the record. The big question that continues to be unexplored in all this is how the deputy in question could have been doing this for so long without longtime Constable (now Sheriff) Ron Hickman noticing. It would be very nice to get some clarity on that. The Press has more.