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Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Announces Coty’s ‘Inference-of-Falsity’ Framework Extended to Apply to Police Officers With Established History of Falsifying Evidence in Drug Cases

by Richard Resch

The Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas announced that the inference-of-falsity framework set forth in Ex parte Coty,418 S.W.3d 597 (Tex. Crim. App. 2014), applicable to state-actor lab technicians and forensic scientists, also applies to cases involving police officers with a proven history of falsifying evidence to obtain arrests and convictions in drug-related cases.

In 2013, Aaron Mathews pleaded guilty to delivery of cocaine, in an amount less than one gram. The convicting court adopted the parties’ Agreed Proposed Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, and Order as establishing the underling facts of the case as described in the police report prepared by Gerald Goines of the Houston Police Department. The court sentenced him to 180 days in the Harris County Jail.

In 2019, Mathews was notified that the officer working undercover on his case and sole witness against him—Gerald Goines—was under investigation for falsifying evidence and that he had been relieved of duty.

Mathews filed an application for writ of habeas corpus, arguing that his guilty plea was involuntary due tofalse evidence presented by Goines. Other than his own unsworn statement attached to his writ application in which he denied selling cocaine toGoines, Mathews did not present any evidence that Goines provided false information in his specific case. Rather, Mathews argued that because Goines had some history of misconduct in drug-related cases, the Coty inference-of-falsity framework should be extended to cover his case. The Harris County District Attorney, the StateProsecuting Attorney, and amicus curiae all agreed with Mathews’ position.

The Court recited the following factual background. Authorities established that Goines previously provided false information in a least one prior drug-related case. He testified under oath at the trial of Otis Mallet that, while working undercover in April of 2008, he gave$200 of “police money” to Steven Mallet in exchange for drugs and that he never recovered the money. He further claimed that Steven gave the money to his brother Otis and returned with crack cocaine. Both brothers were convicted and sentenced to confinement.

Otis’ attorneys subsequently discovered that Goines’ sworn expense report for the relevant period didn’t corroborate his sworn testimony against the Mallets regarding the $200. A different expense report revealed that Goines actually paid an informant $200 for information regarding the case against the Mallets. Two separate courts concluded that Goines provided false testimony against the brothers, and the Court of Criminal Appeals granted post-conviction relief to both of them.

The Court next discussed Coty. In that case, the defendant relied on the fact that a forensic chemist employed by the State had falsified lab-test results in other cases, not the defendant’s, to argue that his own guilty plea was based upon false evidence. The Coty Court held that proof of such falsification in other cases could create an inference that falsified evidence was used in the defendant’s own case, which the State would then have the opportunity to rebut.

The Court explained that the Coty Court announced it would deem the evidence in question to be false if the defendant could establish that: “(1) the technician in question was a state actor, (2) the technician committed multiple instances of intentional misconduct in another case or cases, (3) the technician was the same technician that worked on the applicant’s case, (4) the misconduct was the type of misconduct that would have affected the evidence in the applicant’s case, and (5) the technician handled and processed the evidence in the applicant’s case within roughly the same period of time as the other misconduct.”

Once the defendant establishes the foregoing factors, the Coty Court instructed that the defendant has the burden of establishing “the extent of the pattern of misconduct the [state actor] is accused of.” If the defendant carries his burden of establishing the predicate facts, then the burden shifts to the State to provide evidence showing the State actor at issue didn’t engage in similar misconduct in the defendant’s case. Coty.

The Coty Court further instructed that the defendant bears the burden of proving the materiality of the falsified evidence. In cases where the defendant pleaded guilty, he can meet his burden by establishing that but for the false evidence he wouldn’t have pleaded guilty. See: Ex parte Barnaby, 475 S.W.3d 316 (Tex. Crim. App. 2015).

Turning to the present case, the Court announced that the Coty framework should be extended to police officers with an established history of falsifying evidence in drug cases. It stated that the Coty Court justified adoption of the inference-of-falsity on two grounds: (1) where the five factors have been established by the defendant, it’s appropriate to shift the burden to the State to prove the absence of falsified evidence due to the “egregious nature” of the State actor’s misconduct and (2) it would be onerous for an individual defendant to prove actual misconduct by the State actor in his individual case. Those two grounds “apply with as much force to cases involving police officers who display a pattern of mendacity in obtaining drug arrests and convictions as it does for cases involving laboratory technicians who routinely falsify forensic test results and documentation,” the Court reasoned.

The Court applied the five Coty factors to the facts of the present case and concluded that Mathews could plausibly satisfy all five factors as required by Ex parte Owens, 515 S.W.3d 891 (Tex. Crim. App. 2017). Thus, the falsity inference could be established, according to the Court.

Mathews still has the burden of proving materiality under Coty. The Court opined that it’s possible Mathews will be able to meet his burden. It stated that Goines’ identification of Mathews as the person who sold him cocaine is the only evidence in the record against him. No other officer witnessed Mathews’ alleged sale of cocaine to Goines, there’s no indication that Goines used a marked $20 bill that could have proven that Mathews was the seller, nor is there anything in the record that establishes that Mathews interacted with Goines, the Court stated.

Additionally, Mathews asserted that had he known of Goines’ history of falsifying evidence prior to pleading guilty he would have opted for a trial. The maximum sentence he faced was two years in prison. The Court saw no reason to dismiss his assertion, reasoning it is plausible that he would have risked an additional 18 months of imprisonment and take his chances at trial in light of Goines’ compromised status as a witness. Notably, even the State didn’t challenge Mathews on this point. Thus, the Court ruled that Mathews “has pled facts which, if true, may very well entitle him to relief.” See Ex parte Maldonado, 688 S.W.2d 114 (Tex. Crim. App. 1985).

Accordingly, because stipulated facts are insufficient to grant the requested relief, the Court remanded the case to the convicting court “to make preliminary determination whether all five Coty requirements have been established by evidence.” See: Ex parte Mathews, 638 S.W.3d 685 (Tex. Crim. App. 2022). 

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Related legal cases

Ex parte Mathews

Ex parte Barnaby

Ex parte Maldonado

 

 

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