Thursday, May 21, 2020

Colton Lester: Texas. (Where else?) Great story (as usual) by topnotch 'Statesman' reporter Chuck Lindell headed: "Court OK's compensating man imprisoned under invalidated law."... "Calling it “an egregious case of the criminal-justice system gone wrong,” the Texas Supreme Court on Friday came to the rescue of an East Texas man who spent two years in prison for breaking a law that had been declared unconstitutional."

PUBLISHER'S NOTE: From our 'like this is really disgusting' department. (Or perhaps it might even qualify for our 'enough to make one weep' column. ) A 17-year-old, represented by counsel who presumably negotiated a guilty plea to a crime,  and is then presumably permitted by the judge to plead guilty to that crime  in return for a prison sentence after the judge has presumably conducted an inquiry to determine if the plea is kosher.  (True, 'kosher' is not a legal term - but I just had a smoke salmon and cream cheese sandwich for lunch). There's just one problem - a rather serious one at that. As Reporter Chuck Lindell points out in the Statesman, at the time of the plea, the law  in question had been declared invalid.  Ergo, illegally sent to prison for two years, no crime. Much of the reporting on the case has focused on the issue of 'compensation'  in view of the State's argument - the' blinking'  nerve of them -  that the guilty plea barred a finding of actual innocence. True, that's a neat issue to discuss over a glass of port in the  lawyer's lounge or in a law school classroom,  but in the view of this humble observer of criminal justice, it pales as an issue in the face of an extraordinarily alarming fact: Neither the defence lawyer (the lad's  lawyer/protector), the prosecutor (an officer of the court), or the judge (yikes! the judge!)  were aware  that there was no crime committed  because the law had been invalidated - and to make matters worse, the 17-year-old - barely on the threshold of adulthood in legal terms - went illegally to prison for two years, and was denied compensation  -  in spite of this outrageous betrayal by every element of the justice system - because  he had entered a guilty plea.  What does all of this have to do with flawed pathology and flawed pathologists  (with a few extra's thrown in) - the grist of the Charles Smith Blog mill?  Absolutely nothing. But the quarantine was getting to me, the case made me see red, and I desperately needed to rant. Thanks for listening.

Harold Levy: Publisher: The Charles Smith Blog.


STORY: "Court OK's compensating man imprisoned under invalidated law," by Reporter Chuck Lindell, published by The Statesman on May 15, 2020.

GIST: "Calling it “an egregious case of the criminal-justice system gone wrong,” the Texas Supreme Court on Friday came to the rescue of an East Texas man who spent two years in prison for breaking a law that had been declared unconstitutional.

Ruling 7-2, the court said Colton Lester was entitled to be paid from a state fund that provides $80,000 for every year a wrongfully convicted inmate spends behind bars.

State officials had declined to pay Lester, arguing that the money is reserved for people who were found to be “actually innocent” of their crimes.

But Lester, who pleaded guilty to attempted online solicitation of a minor in 2014, was unaware — as were his lawyer, the prosecutors and the judge — that the law had been invalidated by the state’s highest criminal court in 2013.

The state Supreme Court ruled Friday that Lester’s guilty plea was not an issue, concluding instead that no criminal act exists if the act isn’t a crime under state law.

“As a matter of historical fact, Lester’s conduct was not a crime at the time it was committed,” Justice John Devine wrote for the majority.

“Lester is therefore actually innocent in the same way that someone taking a stroll in the park is actually innocent of the crime of walking on a sidewalk. No such crime exists,” Devine wrote.

Lester was 17, making him an adult in criminal matters, and a junior at Livingston High School, about 75 miles north of Houston, when he was charged with online solicitation after sending a text message propositioning a freshman girl for sex on April 27, 2014.

That was six months after the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals had tossed out the online solicitation law, which had made it a crime for adults to send sexually explicit electronic messages to a minor with the intent “to arouse or gratify sexual desire.”

The court determined that the 2005 law violated the U.S. Constitution because, instead of being narrowly written to protect children from sexual abuse, it prohibited a wide array of protected speech.

And, although the online solicitation law is back in service after lawmakers tightened its language, the new law applied only to offenses committed after Sept. 1, 2015, and had no bearing on Lester’s case.

The Texas Supreme Court on Friday also ruled on a second case involving the overturned solicitation law.

A Denton County man, identified in court records as EH, was trying to get a 2007 arrest for online solicitation of a minor expunged from his record.

After that law was struck down, EH was able to get his indictment and conviction overturned in 2016. The Texas Department of Public Safety, however, declined to remove the arrest from EH’s record, arguing that state law clearly says arrest records cannot be erased for those who, like EH, pleaded guilty and were placed on probation.

In an 8-1 ruling, the Supreme Court ordered the DPS to expunge the man’s arrest record, ruling that EH’s probation did not matter.

“The statute under which EH was arrested has been declared unconstitutional, the indictment against him has been dismissed, and the court order placing him in community supervision has been vacated,” Justice Jeff Boyd wrote.

Laws declared unconstitutional — and probation orders resulting from those laws — are considered void from the start, as if they “never existed at all,” Boyd wrote."

The entire story can be read at:

PUBLISHER'S NOTE: I am monitoring this case/issue. Keep your eye on the Charles Smith Blog for reports on developments. The Toronto Star, my previous employer for more than twenty incredible years, has put considerable effort into exposing the harm caused by Dr. Charles Smith and his protectors - and into pushing for reform of Ontario's forensic pediatric pathology system. The Star has a "topic"  section which focuses on recent stories related to Dr. Charles Smith. It can be found at: Information on "The Charles Smith Blog Award"- and its nomination process - can be found at: Please send any comments or information on other cases and issues of interest to the readers of this blog to:  Harold Levy: Publisher: The Charles Smith Blog;
FINAL WORD:  (Applicable to all of our wrongful conviction cases):  "Whenever there is a wrongful conviction, it exposes errors in our criminal legal system, and we hope that this case — and lessons from it — can prevent future injustices."
Lawyer Radha Natarajan:
Executive Director: New England Innocence Project;