Harris County is currently wrestling with the issue of whether ‘not guilty’ actually means ‘innocent’. Alfred Dewayne Brown recently applied for compensation for the 12 years he spent in TDJ. Although I believe the ultimate decision rests with the state comptroller, Houston’s police union continues to insist that he is guilty and therefore ineligible.
This article by the Houston Chronicle presents part of the story; that phone records which could have been helpful to Brown’s defense were never presented to the defense, and were in fact hidden away in a detective’s garage. What it does not mention, however, was how Brown’s girlfriend and alibi at the time was bullied andthreatened by members of a grand jury into reversing her testimony; she flipped from saying that Brown had spoken to her by phone from their apartment at the time of the murders, to claiming that he had admitted to her that he was guilty.
Devon Anderson decided that there was no longer enough evidence to try him and dismissed the charges. You would think that an overturned conviction and dismissal would be enough to return him to his previous legal status; innocent until proven guilty. But because no official has declared him ‘actually innocent’, he may be told to piss off without a penny for the 12 years gone.
The horror presented in these articles is that of a guilty man getting one over onthe system; that Brown may be guilty and therefore does not deserve to be paid for his time. However, the most basic premise of our justice system is Blackstone’s formulation, that “the law holds it better that ten guilty persons escape, than that one innocent party suffer”. When we abandon that principle, when we relax the standard of proof as happened in Carlos Coy’s case, we end up at a point where anyone who comes before the court is more likely to suffer than not.