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July 29, 2022

ABA asks U.S. Supreme Court to consider Texas conviction involving deficient DNA evidence

CHICAGO, July 29, 2022 — The American Bar Association filed an amicus brief Thursday with the U.S. Supreme Court, asking the court to take up a Texas death penalty case in which the defendant was convicted on DNA evidence and testimony from a police laboratory that was later deemed unreliable by the state.

The case represents the first opportunity for the ABA to bring its Criminal Justice Standards on DNA Evidence to the Supreme Court’s attention. They were approved as policy by the ABA House of Delegates in 2007 and recommended “minimum requirements for the collection, handling, analysis and use of DNA evidence in criminal cases.”

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, Texas’s highest court for criminal cases, voted to deny relief to the petitioner, even though a state habeas court determined that reliability problems at the police laboratory that processed the DNA evidence used to secure the conviction and death sentence called into question whether the petitioner received a fair trial. The state later agreed. Nonetheless, the Court of Criminal Appeals reinstated the petitioner’s conviction.

The ABA brief noted that the police laboratory’s handling of the evidence specifically “ran afoul of at least four relevant parts of the ABA standards.”

“When the science behind the DNA analysis in a case is flawed, the result necessarily rests on a shaky foundation,” the ABA brief said in asking the Supreme Court to review the decision by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. “It strains credulity that a state could secure a conviction for capital murder based principally on false and misleading DNA evidence and that the conviction could be upheld after the flaws in the evidence came to light.”

The ABA brief in Escobar v. Texas is here. The law firm of Sparacino PLLC in Washington, D.C., filed the brief pro bono on behalf of the ABA.

The ABA is the largest voluntary association of lawyers in the world. As the national voice of the legal profession, the ABA works to improve the administration of justice, promotes programs that assist lawyers and judges in their work, accredits law schools, provides continuing legal education, and works to build public understanding around the world of the importance of the rule of law.