Houston Attorneys Uncover Potentially Wrongful Convictions

"We could no longer choose between a paycheck and our integrity.”

That’s how Amanda Culbertson explained her resignation as a supervisor at the Houston Police Department’s crime lab while testifying regarding serious problems at the lab during pretrial hearings in a recent DWI case.  Defense attorneys Dane Johnson and Jordan Lewis had called Culbertson to the stand to bolster their claim that the crime lab equipment used to conduct blood-alcohol tests was faulty, and the evidence against their client should be thrown out.   

Culbertson testified that she and a colleague quit their jobs at the HPD crime lab because they questioned the validity of the blood-alcohol tests used to prosecute drunk driving suspects. Electrical equipment problems like overheating compromised the integrity of the tests results, she explained, but she and her fellow supervisors were afraid to discipline technicians who didn’t follow these rules for fear of retaliation from their boss, the HPD lab director.   Defense attorney Johnson predicts that hundreds of cases may be affected by the new information. 

Criminal defendants are often presumed by the public to be guilty, and the lawyers who choose to defend them regularly face antagonistic questions about their choice of practice area.  The lawyers here, however, not only did their jobs – zealously defending their client and forcing the state to meet its burden of proof – but they did a broader service to all citizens by ensuring that the criminal justice system operates more fairly, honestly and effectively.  Nobody’s interests are served when defendants are convicted based on faulty evidence.

While most people don’t realize it, attorneys have professional responsibilities beyond the diligent representation of their individual clients.  The preamble to the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct states that “a lawyer should seek improvement of the law, the administration of justice and the quality of service rendered by the legal profession.”

Kudos to Dane Johnson and Jordan Lewis, who did just that.    
 

Posted: 8/11/2011 1:16:04 PM by On the Merits Editor | with 0 comments

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Thanks for stopping by On the Merits, the first blog from the Texas Center for Legal Ethics. On the Merits will take a close look at significant legal stories with an eye toward addressing the legal myths and misconceptions that turn up in news stories, movies, TV programs, websites, anonymous emails and other forms of mass communications. Our goal at On the Merits is to provide readers with a thoughtful examination of what the media and others are saying about the legal profession and to apply the frequently-absent context of how the legal system actually works.

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