Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Officer Falsified Report to Induce Confession: CCA Reverses Conviction

Wilson v. State, NO. PD-0307-09.

In an issue of first impression (so says the majority - dissenters not convinced), the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals considered whether article 38.23 of the Code of Criminal Procedure bars the admissibility of a confession (to murder) if the interrogating officer fabricates documentary evidence in violation of the Texas Penal Code section 37.09 and uses it to persuade a suspect to confess.

In Wilson, a detective “knowingly creat[ed] the false document (a fingerprint test result) with the intention that defendant would consider the document as genuine and confess to shooting the victim.”  Writing for the slim majority (5-4), Judge Cochran reasoned that...
The purpose of section 37.09 is to maintain the honesty, integrity, and reliability of the justice system and prohibiting anyone–including members of the government–from creating, destroying, forging, altering, or otherwise tampering with evidence that may be used in an official investigation or judicial proceeding. Obstruction-of-justice offenses, such as tampering with evidence or government documents, address “the harm that comes from the [actor’s] disobedience of the law–damage to the authority of the government; a lessening of the public’s confidence in our institutions; public cynicism, fear, and uncertainty; and a social climate that is likely to lead to even greater disobedience."
Accordingly, the Court affirmed the decision of the "San Antonio Court of Appeals, which held that (1) the interrogating officer violated the law by fabricating a forensic report falsely stating that appellant’s fingerprints were found on the magazine clip of the murder weapon; and (2) the trial judge erred in denying appellant’s motion to suppress."

See majority opinion HERE.

The dissenters (Meyers, J., and Keller, P.J., Keasler, J., and Hervery, J.) would have reversed.

Meyers (HERE) would reverse because the officer did not, in his view, violate section 37.09, because the latent fingerprints could have very well been the suspect's (and in hindsight were).

Keasler, Keller, and Hervey would reverse because the appellant did not preserve error (HERE) and because he had no standing to challenge the officer's violation of section 37.09 (HERE).