Meth hype by DEA Agent, prosecutor, gets life sentence overturned

Some 3-1/2 years ago I highlighted a case out of my hometown in Tyler, Texas, where

two newlyweds were sentenced to life in prison for possessing 255 grams of meth. A Drug Enforcement Administration agent testified at trial that 255 grams was enough to get 45,000 people “high” — “If those people were lined up side by side, they would form a line from downtown Tyler to Bullard about 17 miles, he said.”

Last month the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals overturned punishment phase of the trial – on grounds of ineffective assistance of counsel because the defendant’s lawyer failed to object to testimony by a DEA Agent Downing (first name omitted), as well as for failing to call an expert witness to rebut the absurdist claims about 255 grams of meth getting 45,000 people high..

The court also found the prosecutor in the case made prejudicial arguments during closing by telling the jury that “[p]eople are bringing [methamphetamine] through our county to its destination: Our kids and our family members, so it will poison them and turn them into addicts.” As I pointed out at the time:

Local media dutifully hyped the ridiculous claim. The lead in the local newspaper declared the couple was sentenced “for possessing enough Ice methamphetamine to get half of the population of Smith County high.”

But is that true? That would mean that it only took .0056 of a gram — or just over five one-thousandths of a gram — for a person to get high on meth. By any measure, that’s a big fat lie.

The DEA Agent in question just made those numbers up – they bear no relation at all to reality and anyone with his background definitely should have known better, which means he either lied in court or is utterly ignorant about widely known information that’s central to his professional work as a drug investigator. In other words, Agent Downing either perjured himself or is too incompetent to wear the badge, anyway.

Quite frankly this decision in no small measure restores some of my faith that the Court of Criminal Appeals may yet shuck off its anything-goes-if-it-convicts mentality that’s made it famous under Presiding Judge Sharon Faye Keller and actually, occasionally insist that Texas defendants receive fair trials. The same type of over-the-top rhetoric was typical of the infamous Tulia cases, but no appellate court ever called them on it. I’d honestly come to think it was the sort of thing police and prosecutors just got away with, but perhaps the quantitative nature of the false statements by Agent Downing – debunkable as they were with the most basic, back-of-the-napkin math – made this case just a little bit too over the top to ignore.

Judge Cheryl Johnson wrote the opinion in which Meyers, Price, Womack, Holcomb, and Cochran joined. Judges Keller, Keasler and Hervey concurred.

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