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Police That Lie: More on the Secret Texas District Attorney Lists of Police Officers Not Trustworthy to Take the Witness Stand

Prosecutors have lists of the names of police officers and deputy sheriffs that they don’t trust to take the witness stand — did you know these lists existed?  Do you think that every police officer is honest and trustworthy to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth on the stand?

Do you assume that a police officer who takes an oath and sits down in the witness stand is going to tell the truth?

Brady v. Maryland: The Brady Lists

Prosecutors in every District Attorney’s Office in the State of Texas are well aware of the 1963 opinion coming from the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Brady v. Maryland that makes it the law of the land for prosecutors to share all their facts about a case with the defense lawyers where the D.A. is trying someone for a serious crime, trying to convict him or her and send them off to prison.

In Brady v. Maryland, a man named John Brady was convicted of murder but his defense team didn’t give up on justice — and even though they had to appeal his case to the Highest Court in the Land, those defense lawyers succeeded in getting Brady’s conviction overturned because the prosecutors in his case hid evidence from the defense. It was big evidence too: the prosecutors didn’t share a letter that they had that was written by the man who actually committed the murder.

Texas’ Michael Morton Act

In Texas, the Michael Morton Act also makes it a legal requirement that state attorneys produce their evidence, good and bad for their case, to the criminal defense lawyers they will be facing in court. Defense lawyers are allowed to review the prosecution’s file as well as making photocopies of what they find there.

This is a state legal requirement that is an additional requirement placed upon Texas prosecutors, independent of Brady. It applies to criminal offenses that happen on or after January 1, 2014.

You have to wonder how some of these prosecuting attorneys sleep at night — knowing that they have the wrong person on trial, and willing to send that innocent person to a life behind bars all the while letting the real wrongdoer get away with his crime.

Charles Sebesta: District Attorney of Burleson and Washington Counties Is Disbarred

Maybe Charles Sebesta can answer that question someday — how these prosecutors can sleep at night. For 25 years, Sebesta served as the head of the Office of the District Attorney for Burleson and Washington counties – and this month he was disbarred, his license to practice law booted by the State Bar of Texas.

Why? Sebesta is the notorious prosecutor who not only kept back evidence in the capital murder trial of an innocent man, Anthony Graves, he also used false witness testimony in his case. Sebesta’s sneakiness got him that notch on his belt back in 1994, and Graves spent 18 years behind bars for a crime that he didn’t commit.

For more on this story, read the Texas Monthly coverage in an piece by Pamela Colloff entitled, “Ex-DA Who Sent Exoneree Anthony Graves to Death Row Is Disbarred.

Lying Liars Who Lie: The Brady Lists of Police Officers Not Trusted to Take the Witness Stand by Prosecutors

Which brings us to the infamous “Brady Lists” here in Texas. There are lists that are kept by prosecutors in county District Attorney offices around the State of Texas which name the members of local law enforcement that the prosecutors will not put on the witness stand because they don’t trust the police officers to give honest, reliable testimony on the witness stand.

Now, it’s a good thing to have prosecutors who are willing to make these lists and not put untrustworthy witnesses on the stand. That’s good.

What’s bad here is how hard it is to get access to those witness lists in many counties to see what police officers are not considered to be reliable by those who play on the State’s Team.

Which is why it’s been such a big deal in the past few weeks to have the Fort Worth (Tarrant County) District Attorney actually send out letters to defense lawyers sharing information regarding these untrustworthy law enforcement witnesses.

DA Sharen Wilson Shares List of 16 Police Officers and 3 Breathalyzer Operators

This month, defense lawyers in this part of the state started getting letters from Tarrant County District Attorney Sharen Wilson that have created lots of criminal bar buzz (and media coverage).

Seems D.A. Wilson wrote the defense attorneys that she had looked though 22 binders found in her office’s misdemeanor section and discovered notes in the files written by misdemeanor prosecutors for Tarrant County where the state attorneys were concerned about the honesty and credibility of three operators of breathalyzers (devices used in DWI cases) as well as sixteen police officers working for a variety of police departments (e.g., the police departments of Arlington, Bedford, Crowley, Euless, Fort Worth, Grapevine, North Richland Hills, Watauga, Willow Park, and the Tarrant County Sheriff’s Office).

Reportedly, there were a LOT of these notes in these binders. Wilson has told reporters there were over 6000 notes written in the handwriting of the attorneys who were in charge of prosecuting the misdemeanor cases in Tarrant County. The time period for the handwritten notes covered 1993 to 2014, and comments had things like “fudges” regarding an officer’s testimony.

These letters — around 4000 of them — have been sent out to the defense lawyers in these cases. Officially, these are considered to be “Brady Notices” under Brady v. Maryland.

Kudos to D.A. Wilson for doing the right thing here. Think how easy it would have been for her to stash those 22 binders in her credenza or in a storage closet ….

Austin American Statesman Investigation

The Austin American Statesman has been investigating the situation here in Texas for many months now, trying to gain access to Brady Lists via the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

It’s been a fight for the reporters there. Their requests have been ignored by some prosecutors; others trying to placate the journalists by giving them partial information like the number of officers on their list, but not their names.

Read, “District attorneys’ system for tracking untrustworthy cops chaotic” by Stateman reporters Eric Dexhemier and Ciara O’Rourke.

Now, Grits for Breakfast is reporting that Dexhemier and O’Rourke have also been told they cannot have the information because of some Texas Attorney General Opinions regarding The Public Information Act.

Dallas D.A. Brady List

What about Dallas?  The Dallas District Attorney Brady List has been released by the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office. You can read it here.

Conclusion

It’s not just defendants who need to be able to rely upon the integrity of law enforcement when giving testimony in criminal cases. It is you and me and everyone who relies upon the integrity of the police to do their jobs with honesty and respect for the law.

Having police officers on the payroll that cannot be trusted to take the witness stand by the county district attorney’s office? Refusing to identify them to the public or the press? Anyone see a problem here?


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