Making sense of the Waco Drug Enforcement Unit situation - how much difference will make in cases where defendants have already been convicted?

The defense bar, as well as the community were suprised by the recent disclosure that the Waco Police had asked the Texas Rangers to investigate Waco Police officer David Starr. Along with the announcement from Chief Brett Stroman, the District Attorney also announced that his office was reviewing cases handled by Officer Starr. The story was first reported by the Waco Tribune Herald. At the same time, District Attorney Abel Ryena was also providing notice to the defense bar.

The investigation centers around representations Starr made concerning confidential informations. It appears that he claims an informant was present during a transaction, even though he denied one was there. According the reports, Starr admits making the false representation, but says he did so at the direction of a supervisor.

The big question everyone has is what impact - if any - this is going to have on both pending cases, and cases that have already been tried. As for the pending cases, all cases involving the Waco Police department drug unit are on hold until they have been revieweed. I have no doubt that for those cases the proper disclosures will be made, and the cases will move forward. The bigger problem is with past cases.

To understand the possible impact, you have to understand the law concerning confidential informants. Generally, police are able to keep their identities confidential. However, there are times when their identify must be disclosed. One of those situations is where they are present during a transaction. For example, suppose an informant tells officers about drugs, and they conduct a raid. If the informant is still there, he is a potential witness. The defendant may claim he/she was the one who brought the drugs, or can provide other information that may help a case.

On the other hand, if an informant's information is used to obtain a search warrant, or further an investigation, they can usually be protected. There are exceptions, but they are fairly limited.

In some cases, a lawyer may file a motion to reveal the identity of an informant. The prosecutor can admit there is an informant, and argue against disclosure. If that happened, there should be no issue. The problem will be where the prosecutor falsely claimed there was no informant. In those cases, the judge will have to decide what impact that had on the case.

I would expect the investigation in this matter will be conducted fairly quickly. There are two many cases potentially impacted to not do so. So stay tuned to see what happens.

 

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