Wednesday, July 21, 2010

“Tulia Law” Helps Convicted Drug Dealer Win an Acquittal on Appeal

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the “Accomplice-Witness Rule,” which is the statutory adoption of the common law rule that a conviction cannot stand on the testimony of an accomplice without corroboration. Similarly, taking its name from the infamous Tulia drug cases, the “Tulia Law” (Tex. Code Crim. Proc. Art . 38.141) disfavors the testimony of a confidential informant working covertly on behalf of a law enforcement agency if the testimony is not corroborated by other evidence.

Earlier this month, the 11th District Court of Appeals (Eastland) applied the “Tulia Law” in Taylor v. State, resulting in an acquittal of the appellant’s conviction for possession with intent to deliver cocaine. In Taylor, the only witness connecting the appellant with the offense was a confidential informant, who had been arrested himself for possession of cocaine. The police equipped the informant with a wire and sent him in to a particular neighborhood to purchase cocaine. According to his trial testimony, the informant purchased $200 of cocaine from appellant. There was a problem, however, with the audio recording, as it could not independently establish that a drug transaction occurred or even that appellant was one of the voices on the recording. Therefore, because the police officers did not witness any part of the transaction, the only evidence connecting appellant to the drug transaction was the testimony of the confidential informant.

If we learned anything from the Tulia cases, it is that we can’t trust a confidential informant when he points the finger at a person and identifies him/her as a drug dealer. Apparently the 11th Court got the picture, because it reversed appellant’s conviction and entered a verdict of acquittal based on the “Tulia Law.”