A cardinal rule of the Texas criminal justice system that is that every person who appears in court must tell the truth. Attorneys for both sides also have an ethical obligation not to knowingly put a witness on the stand who intends to lie. But what happens when a police officer is found to commit perjury? Does that affect the validity of other criminal convictions that relied, even on part, on the same officer’s testimony?
Court of Criminal Appeals: Sheriff’s Deputies Lies About Education, Credentials “Not Material” to Drug Conviction
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals recently addressed these questions in Ex Parte Lalonde. This involved a petition from a man convicted of a serious drug crime, who argued his conviction was illegal due to prosecutorial misconduct. The misconduct, in turn, arose from the role played by a particular police officer involved with the case.
Here is a brief explanation of what happened. In May 2014, the chief deputy of the Nacogdoches County Sheriff’s Department and two other officers were investigating allegations of possible illegal drug activity at a local residence. The purposes of the officers’ visit was to obtain consent to search the premises.
According to the officers, the defendant in this case answered the door. The officers said the defendant told them the residence belonged to his mother and he needed to speak with her before consenting to a search. The chief deputy replied the defendant, as an “occupant” of the residence, could consent to a search of any area “that was in his care, custody, and control.”
Based on this, the defendant gave consent. The officers subsequently searched not only the residence but the defendant himself. The officers found methamphetamines on the defendant, who was subsequently arrested and charged with possession. A jury later convicted the defendant, and he was sentenced to 7 years in prison and fined $10,000.
At some point after the defendant was charged, the chief deputy involved in the case was himself “indicted for several counts of aggravated perjury,” according to court records. Nevertheless, the Nacogdoches County District Attorney announced he would not call the chief deputy to testify in any pending criminal trials.
Nevertheless, the chief deputy did testify at a pretrial hearing on the defendant’s motion to suppress the evidence gathered during the initial search of the residence. During this testimony, the chief deputy committed perjury with respect to his credentials and education. Before the Court of Criminal Appeals, the defendant argued this violated his constitutional right to due process.
The Court of Criminal Appeals essentially saw the perjury as having no effect on the outcome of the suppression hearing or the defendant’s conviction. The “false testimony was not material,” the Court concluded. And even the prosecution’s failure to disclose the chief deputy’s perjury in prior cases to the defendant before the suppression hearing did not deprive him of his right to a fair trial. The conviction and sentence therefore stood.
Speak with a Galveston and League City Drug Crimes Defense Attorney Today
Setting aside the perjury issue in this case, there is another important lesson: Never consent to a warrantless search of your residence. And if the police show up at your door and suspect you of drug crimes, say nothing and contact a qualified Houston criminal defense lawyer right away. Call the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates if you need advice or assistance today at (281) 280-0100.