Delayed drug test results from Texas forensic labs have resulted in the
wrongful convictions of at least 21 citizens, according to a recent newspaper
investigative report. Thirteen of the defendants were arrested in Houston.
According to the article, the cases all fit a similar pattern. The individuals
were arrested and found in possession of a substance police claimed was
an illegal drug. Because they had a previous criminal record, bail would
be set higher than they could afford, so they had to sit in jail until
their case was resolved.
Offered an early plea deal, they took it and served a shorter sentence
than they would have received if found guilty at trial. Months - or sometimes
years - later, lab results would come back showing that the substance
they were arrested for possessing wasn't an illegal drug after all.
In one of the most recent cases, a man was pulled over by Houston police
for failure to signal a turn. The arresting officers found a substance
in his car which they assumed was crack cocaine, and arrested him for drug
possession. Four days later, and facing a possible two-year sentence, he agreed to
plead guilty and got 180 days in jail. Months later, the, the forensic
lab results came back showing the substance was not in fact cocaine.
These cases show why those charged with drug offenses need an aggressive
defense. Faced with possible job loss or family disruption, those who
cannot afford bail may feel they have no choice to accept a plea deal,
even if they are innocent. But police can and do make mistakes, and an
experienced criminal defense attorney will carefully review all the state's
evidence before making a recommendation about a plea bargain.
Source: Austin American-Statesman, "Latest drug exoneration displays familiar pattern," Eric Dexheimer, April 23, 2014