I was surprised. Although Precinct Four has traditionally been the gift that keeps on giving when it comes to mishandling evidence, I hadn't heard about any new scandals involving them. I knew they had lost some evidence during Hurricane Harvey, but I was pretty sure that all of the defense attorneys had already been notified on those affected cases. If I, alone, had received seven notifications, this was a clear indication of a really widespread problem, right?
So, I clicked on the the attachment to read what case was affected.
The first thing I noticed when I read the attachment was that, although the defendant named in the attachment sounded vaguely familiar, I was pretty sure it wasn't a case that I was currently handling. The next thing I noticed was that the Cause number listed seemed fairly old. Current felony cause numbers are in the 150000s, and the first notice I had referenced a case in the 135000s.
So, I searched my records for the case. As it turned out, it was a case from 2012 where my client had pled to 2 years TDCJ. So, I checked the next case. It was also an 2012 Aggravated Assault case, where the client had gotten a reduction to a misdemeanor. The next was a case from 2009. All of the cases had been disposed of a minimum of 5 years.
All of the sentences (if the cases hadn't been dismissed) had already been completely served out.
Obviously, the next question that ran through my head was "what exactly am I supposed to do with this information?"
The notice weren't even remotely specific as to what evidence had been lost or destroyed. Additionally, there was no indication as to when the evidence had been lost. Was it before the case was disposed? Would the evidence have been material to the decisions the client made? Is there a possibility that the plea could be considered involuntary based on this new revelation?
At a minimum, it would seem that attorneys receiving these e-mails need to figure out some of those basic questions. I'm curious to see whether or not the County is planning on paying the attorney fees for this. I was lucky. I only had seven notices. One attorney I spoke to this morning had received forty-two.
These cases are going to involve some legwork, but they are also going to involve tracking down old clients. That's not a small task -- especially not if you have 42 former clients to find. An investigator is going to be needed and they don't work for free, either.
All of this evidence destruction presumably tracks back to former Deputy Constable Chris Hess, who was fired from Precinct Four in 2016. Back then, those of us around the courthouse presumed that we had seen the worst of the scandal when the D.A.'s Office dismissed so many active cases.
As it turns out, that was just the tip of the iceberg.