Reasons Behind the DWI Case Verdict
In 2018, Deputy Bounds saw a woman named Lesley Diamond speed past him, causing him to pursue her vehicle. After she made several unsafe lane changes without signaling, Bounds pulled her over. Diamond staggered out of her vehicle and could not keep her balance, appearing disoriented and smelling strongly of alcohol. According to Bounds, she had red, glassy eyes and slurred speech, and was unable to identify the medication she was taking as well as the country club she was coming from.
Further, Diamond admitted she consumed three beers that day. On the Standardized Field Sobriety Tests, she showed 5 of 8 clues on the walk-and-turn and 4 of 4 clues on the one-leg-stand. Bounds determined she was intoxicated because she lost the normal use of her mental and physical abilities and arrested her for DWI as a result. Since Diamond refused to give her breath and blood sample, Bounds got a warrant to obtain her blood sample. After Diamond’s blood sample was obtained, Bounds delivered the vials to a secure lockbox at the Houston Police Department.
Andrea Gooden, Houston Police Department Crime Lab analyst, retrieved the sealed envelope with Diamond's blood, which did not appear to be tampered with and appeared to be properly labeled. The analysis revealed a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.193. The jury found that Diamond's BAC was 0.15 or more at the time of the analysis.
This finding was just the beginning.
Where the Issue Lies
As a result, Diamond was convicted of a misdemeanor DWI and sentenced to 5 days in jail. However, she did not sit well with this unfavorable outcome and applied for a writ of habeas corpus, which is a procedure allowing her to challenge her jail sentence. In other words, this process allowed her to dispute her sentence and hear the State’s reasoning for their position on the matter. In this instance, Diamond argued that the State suppressed impeachment evidence in violation of her right to due process because it failed to disclose that before Gooden's testimony:
- Gooden certified a mislabeled lab report in an unrelated case; and
- Gooden's supervisor, Arnold, temporarily removed Gooden from her casework because he lacked confidence in her skills.
Diamond argued that the evidence regarding Gooden’s mistake in an unrelated case would have helped get Gooden impeached, but since the evidence excluded this error, the result was an acquittal, or hung jury. During the habeas hearing, the court denied Diamond's writ of habeas corpus application, finding that the undisclosed evidence was neither favorable nor material (significant) to her sentence. Simply put, it had zero relevance to her case.
However, the court of appeals reversed, finding that the undisclosed evidence was material (significant) because Gooden's testimony was necessary for the jury to decide whether Diamond's BAC level was 0.15 or more. If Gooden made a mistake in the past, how could Diamond trust that Gooden’s testimony was reliable in her case?
Determining whether evidence is material as part of a claimed Brady violation is a mixed question of law and fact. Brady material is evidence that the prosecution is legally required to disclose. It encompasses favorable evidence to the accused (Diamond), essentially opposing their guilt. In this case, Gooden’s reliability was brought in to question due to her previous errors. How can Diamond trust her lab findings when Gooden has made mistakes in the past?
To be entitled to relief because of a Brady violation, Diamond had to show:
- that the State failed to disclose evidence, regardless of good or bad faith;
- evidence is favorable; and
- evidence is material.
Favorable evidence could make a difference between conviction and acquittal if it’s used effectively. It includes exculpatory and impeachment evidence. Exculpatory evidence is that which may justify, excuse, or clear Diamond from fault, and impeachment evidence is that which disputes, denies, or contradicts other evidence.
The nondisclosure of favorable evidence, being Gooden’s error in an unrelated case, violates due process only if it is material, or influential, to Diamond’s guilt or punishment. Evidence is material if there is a reasonable probability that if it were disclosed, the outcome of Diamond’s trial would have been different.
Understanding the Role of Habeas Courts & Appellate Courts
To give a background, the habeas court is the original factfinder, but the court of appeals (also called appellate court) is the ultimate factfinder, although it usually accepts the habeas court’s findings if appropriate. An appellate court reviewing a habeas court’s ruling must view the record evidence in a favorable light to the ruling and reasonably uphold it. If credibility is the focus of the matter, high regard is given to the habeas court’s findings. In this case, the habeas court questioned Gooden’s reliability due to her mistake in an unrelated case, so the appellate court had to keep that in mind when making its final decision.
However, the habeas court decided that the State’s undisclosed evidence was not material, or significant and relevant, to Diamond’s case. This meant the appellate court had to strongly consider the habeas court’s findings, but since the final decision depended on the applicability of the law, the appellate court heard the case de novo. De novo means a court makes a final decision without any reference to a previous court’s decision. In this case, the appellate court had to make a decision without regard to the habeas court’s decision.
The Final Decision
The habeas court concluded that the undisclosed evidence was not material because there was overwhelming evidence of Diamond's intoxication, regardless of Gooden's testimony. The undisclosed evidence impeaching Gooden would not have impeached the evidence revealing Diamond's intoxication.
Gooden's error in the prior unrelated case was a "protocol error" rather than a mislabeling or analysis error. Gooden’s accurate analysis of the previous case was not in question. Gooden's certification only moved the report to the next stage of administrative and technical review before it was released. The officer, not Gooden, had mislabeled the submission form with an incorrect person’s name, meaning Gooden’s testimony was reliable in Diamond’s case.
As a result, the court of appeals’ judgment was reversed, and the habeas court's ruling was affirmed.
Diamond was found guilty. For more information, read about the Diamond v. State case.
Contact Us for DWI Defense
Our Galveston DWI defense attorneys are thoroughly trained on Field Sobriety Tests as well as blood and breath tests, meaning we know exactly what to look for when analyzing test administration and results. Like Diamond’s lawyer, we can challenge the prosecution’s attacks against you by exposing flaws and inconsistencies in their investigative findings. As former prosecutors, our DWI defense lawyers obtain the key insider knowledge required to achieve a favorable result. Thus, you need our seasoned representation to best combat your DWI charges.
Please schedule your free initial consultation online or by calling (409) 204-5566 to learn how we can help you!