More than a year ago, news broke that then-Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson dismissed numerous criminal cases because of the destruction of 20,000 pieces of evidence by a constable’s deputy. Though a new administration has since been elected, fallout from the 2016 scandal still continues.
During the incident, prosecutors continued to accept plea deals without notifying defendants that the evidence in their case was missing or destroyed.
This month, Harris County DA Kim Ogg sent notice to lawyers in 10,000 closed criminal cases indicating that evidence in those cases – between 2007 and 2016 – may have been destroyed or lost. These notices were the conclusion of a yearlong investigation into the mishandling of evidence.
Ogg told local news outlets that after finding out about the evidence destruction, it was her office’s duty to go through all records to identify affected cases. In many instances, the investigation included a manual review of records.
Just last month, Ogg announced changes to evidence handling as part of her “community action plans” and partially in response to the scandal. She now requires immediate notification of any problems with evidence and a resolution before a prosecutor can accept a plea deal.
Ogg is also considering the creation of a regional evidence room that would act as storage for all Harris County law enforcement entities.
The Harris Co. DA’s Office has already dismissed over one-hundred cases in response to this incident and, though more dismissals aren’t expected, substantial policy changes are sure to come. It will be welcome, and long overdue.