Harris DA’s office hit with rare fine for delay in releasing evidence

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TEC fines

Judge Andrew Wright levied the Harris County District Attorney’s Office with a rare $500 fine for dragging its heels in turning over evidence about the arresting officer in a 2018 drunken driving case, the Houston Chronicle reported. 

Wright also ruled that testimony from the now-former officer would not be allowed at trial, which resulted in prosecutors moving to dismiss the case.

After a Chambers County man was arrested in September 2018 on the misdemeanor charge, his defense attorney, Jordan Lewis, asked the next month for prosecutors to turn over evidence that could help show his client’s innocence or cast doubt on the credibility of witnesses, as required by both state and federal laws. That included the disciplinary history of a La Porte police officer who took part in the arrest.

However, nine months later, as the trial approached, Lewis still had not received the information. When the judge ordered the information turned over, prosecutors asked for a hearing to determine if that could be done under seal, the newspaper reported. Prosecutors also revealed the existence of additional disciplinary records, which spurred Lewis to ask for the sanction.

“Withholding was inexcusable and then the judge told them to turn it over, and they said, ‘No, not unless you give us a protective order,’ ” Lewis told the Chronicle. “All of it just speaks to the very clear attitude that officers are above the law.”

DA’s office spokesman Dane Schiller told the newspaper that the office will appeal the order “because no bad-faith litigation tactics were exercised here.”

He said Wright should have instead delayed the trial and allowed the defense more time to prepare once the documents were turned over.

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