Texas has a Conviction Integrity Unit that Gave a Man Back His Life
Texas, while known throughout the country for having a hard-line approach to criminal justice, has something else going for it that a lot of other states don’t: A Conviction Integrity Unit. In fact, Dallas County had the first Conviction Integrity Unit anywhere in the country. In addition, Texas has a “Junk Science” law that allows the courts to revisit cases in which defendants were charged on the basis of now-discredited science.
One such case involved Steven Cheney who was convicted of murdering a couple in 1987. Cheney was convicted on the testimony of odontologists who determined that the bite marks on the victim’s skin matched Cheney’s. The only problem is that odontologists cannot make that determination. Cheney was released after 30 years in prison and given $2.5 million in damages. He is now 62 years old.
The Shaken Baby Murders
Another prime example of junk science being used to convict hundreds of Americans all across the country is “shaken baby syndrome.” While shaken baby syndrome is certainly something that can be identified and described, prosecutors sought a number of convictions for shaken baby syndrome based on dubious forensic evidence.
Prosecutors noted that shaken baby syndrome had certain physical markers. When they found children that had been admitted to the hospital with these symptoms, they charged parents under a shaken baby theory of intentional harm. Today, many of these convictions have been overturned. It is not possible to forensically diagnose shaken baby syndrome from a handful of potential symptoms. In other words, there are more explanations for these symptoms than shaken babies.
Throughout the 80s and 90s, however, more than 3000 people were convicted of assaulting or killing babies based on dubious forensics alone. Often, the testimony of forensic experts was the lone deciding factor in the conviction.
Other criminal justice integrity projects exist. One such project is the Innocence Project which seeks to employ DNA testing to cases in which modern forensic methods did not exist.
Fake Ballistic Evidence
For years, it was assumed that one gun firing two bullets would leave similar patterns on the bullet that allowed it to be traced back to a specific gun. Countless individuals were convicted on this type of argument while bamboozled judges and juries who lacked the ability to check the facts themselves, convicted on the strength of that evidence.
Today, such evidence is recognized for being what it is—phony science. But those convicted under that phony science still face an uphill battle in terms of getting their cases heard.
Even in Dallas County, where the first Conviction Integrity Unit was implemented, the unit only has the power to recommend cases to the appellate court. It is the appellate court’s decision whether or not to hear the case.
Talk to a West Palm Beach Criminal Defense Attorney
If you have been charged with a crime, the Skier Law Firm P.A. in West Palm Beach has the experience and passion to defend you in court. Give us a call or talk to us online to set up an appointment today.