TEXAS COURT OF CRIMINAL APPEALS STRIKES BALANCE FOR RULE OF LAW

Wilson v. State; Court Reverses Conviction Obtained After Finding Investigator Used False Fingerprint Lab Report to Obtain Confession

By: Houston Criminal Attorney John Floyd and Paralegal Billy Sinclair

It was New Year’s Day, 2006. Ronald Wilson called 911 to report he had discovered a man’s body on a San Antonio street while walking with his son. The police responded to the call and found the body of Amos Gutierrez who had been killed with a single fatal gunshot. The police also found a magazine clip near Gutierrez’s body. The investigation into Gutierrez’s death quickly revealed information implicating Wilson in the crime. He was arrested on misdemeanor charges. 1/

A San Antonio police detective named Roberts was assigned to the case. One of his preliminary tasks was to interrogate the suspect. He was an experienced law enforcement officer. He knew both state and federal courts have sanctioned the use of deception and trickery by law enforcement to get a suspect to confess to a crime. 2/ Roberts decided to employ a extraordinary kind of deception on Wilson. He used an old crime lab report as a template to create a false crime lab report on his computer. He changed the heading on the old report to read, “Bexar County Criminal Investigation Laboratory.” He then typed in the following information: “Results: Examination of Item I revealed the Two Latent Prints lifted from the Firearm Magazine belong to those of Ronald Wilson, a Black Male with the date of birth 11-13-84.” The false report listed Wilson’s city, county, state and federal law enforcement identification numbers.

Armed with the impressive albeit false crime lab report, Roberts entered the interrogation room at 10:02 p.m. He asked Wilson if he had touched anything at the crime scene. Wilson repeatedly said he had not. At 10:13 p.m. Roberts showed the report to Wilson who, while shaking his head in disbelief, studied its contents. Roberts told the suspect “they had his fingerprints” along with other incriminating evidence which the detective began to recite. At 10:17 Wilson interrupted the detective to say he didn’t how his prints wound up on the clip. Not deterred, Roberts continued to press Wilson, recounting for the suspect at 10:20 p.m. the laundry list of evidence against him beginning with the fingerprint report. “[I] can’t get over the prints,” Roberts said at 10:24 p.m. “Let me remind you, I’ve got that report. Those guys are experts. They’re like DNA experts. They’re like experts. What they say is the truth” Wilson put his hands on his head and looked down, saying: “Okay. Okay.” 3/

Detective Roberts apparently was not aware of Article 37.09(a)(2) of the Texas Penal Code which states that if a person, “knowing that an investigation is pending or in progress, makes, presents, or uses a document with knowledge of its falsity and acts with the intent to affect the course or outcome of the investigation,” he has violated Texas law. And the detective must not have been aware of Article 37.10 of the Texas Penal Code which provides: “A person commits an offense if he makes, presents, or use any record, document, or anything with knowledge of its falsity and with the intent that [it] be taken as a genuine governmental record.”

Article 38.23 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure provides that “no evidence obtained by an officer … in violation of … [the] laws of the State of Texas … shall be admitted in evidence against the accused on the trial of any criminal case.” Pursuant to this statute, Wilson’s defense attorney filed a motion to suppress the confession obtained from his client through the false forensic lab report. The trial court conducted two hearings on the motion. Detective Roberts readily conceded at the first hearing he had fabricated the forensic lab report he used to get Wilson to confess. 4/