Harris County, Texas Prosecutors Review DWI Cases Impacted by Discredited Expert
by Derek Gilna
The testimony of county scientist Fessessework Guale, who was employed by the Harris County medical examiner’s office for 10 years, has been called into question by the very criminal justice offices who relied on that testimony to obtain convictions in criminal DWI prosecutions.
The Texas Forensic Science Commission issued a 748-page report that concluded, “Due to the unreliable nature of Guale’s testimony regarding key scientific concepts, any case in which she provided testimony should be reviewed by the [district attorney’s office] and defense [lawyers] to assess the materiality of the testimony to the case outcome and determine whether any legal relief is appropriate.”
According to the report, “This is especially critical for those cases in which the resulting [blood alcohol content] was on the border of the statutorily defined legal limit.”
It appears that Guale, who resigned her forensic science position, misrepresented her educational credentials, possibly prejudicing her testimony. Harris County’s chief prosecutor has been directed to review all DWI matters to determine whether the dispositions in those cases should be overturned.
Questions first arose in 2016, when it was revealed that Guale, who claimed that she earned a Master of Science degree in toxicology, in fact had a Master of Science degree in physiological science from Oklahoma State University. Guale’s bachelor’s degree was in animal science from an Ethiopian university, and her Doctor of Veterinarian Medicine degree was from the same university.
Those questions about her credentials were first raised by Tyler Flood, president of the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association in 2016, when that organization’s concerns triggered the commission’s investigative report. Flood said, “This is big and could give relief in some cases. The citizens of Harris County deserve better and they don’t like to feel like they’ve been lied to by state witnesses.”
Flood also was critical of the judges who presided over the 42 trials in which Guale gave possibly tainted expert testimony. “In all these cases that Guale testified in, the judges allowed her to get away with testifying about ‘junk science,’” he said. Flood added, “judges need to have that a [sic] certain level of skepticism about any scientific evidence being presented.”
“She would say that a person’s BAC would always be higher at the time they were driving,” Flood continued. “So if you were a .08 [BAC] at the time of the test she would say you were higher at the time of driving.” Guale lacked the educational credentials to support those opinions, he said. “So she wasn’t really giving an expert opinion. She was doing the, ‘well this is how I feel and this is what I think,’ but it wasn’t based on science.”
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