Houston’s Harris County District Attorney’s office has sent out hundreds of notices to defendants convicted of drug offenses, telling them that forensic lab reports show they were “convicted in error,” reports the Houston Press. The letters, sent between July and September, show hundreds of defendants who took plea deals for misdemeanor and felony drug possession charges were later cleared when evidence tested by a crime lab analyst came up negative for a controlled substance. While prosecutors were notified several years ago that those tests came back negative, defendants weren’t told until months ago.
The Press is reviewing the cases, some of which date back as far as 2004. In some cases, the crime lab notified the DA’s office that there was no evidence of a controlled substance before a defendant even took a plea deal. DA spokesman Jeff McShan says late DA Mike Anderson first discovered the problem shortly after he took office in 2013. DA Devon Anderson was appointed by the governor to take her husband’s place after he died last year. McShan says the current DA Anderson realized the gravity of the situation — that hundreds of cases might be implicated by negative lab reports that were never sent to defendants or entered in court — and the office began working to clear up cases. “It was just a big mess,” McShan said.