Dishonest but Undivided

Integrity (N)

  1. The quality of being honest and having strong moral principles.
  2. The state of being whole and undivided.

In response to this letter, Dawn Boswell of the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office’s Conviction “Integrity” Unit (C”I”U) sent me this:

Tarrant County 11074 writ letter

Article 11.074 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure obviously doesn’t require the DA to ask the court to appoint counsel to people whom the DA knows to have been convicted under unconstitutional statutes.

And if you wanted to argue that the DA couldn’t ask the court to appoint counsel to people whom the DA knows to have been convicted under unconstitutional statutes, you could take Ms. Boswell’s position:

11.074(a) recites that it applies only to cases “in which the applicant seeks relief” [on a writ from a judgment of conviction other than death or community supervision]. This would appear to require at least some affirmative action on the part of affected defendants in seeking help.

Of course, if you were a DA who wanted the court to appoint counsel to people falsely convicted, you could argue that the statute doesn’t emphasize “seeks relief,” that the full sentence is:

This article applies only to a felony or misdemeanor case in which the applicant seeks relief on a writ of habeas corpus from a judgment of conviction that:

(1) imposes a penalty other than death; or

(2) orders community supervision.

… and that the point of that sentence is not that a defendant have taken some affirmative action, but that the case involve a conviction1 but not the death penalty.

Likewise, if you wanted an excuse not to ask the court to appoint counsel, you could argue that “Indigence is a determination for the courts to make, not us.” But if you didn’t want such an excuse, you could pass the buck to the court. “Dear Judge, we don’t know if these guys are indigent, but would you please make a determination and appoint counsel if appropriate?”

And sure, some defendants might not want to seek habeas relief. That’s not the kind of decision a defendant can make without counsel. I’ve seen people convicted under subsection 33.021(b) seek habeas relief and jump from frying pan to fire. I’ve also seen people convicted under subsection 33.021(b) wait years to seek habeas relief because a court clerk or a probation officer or a jailhouse lawyer or a slapdick free-world lawyer told them they weren’t eligible.

How do you make sure the people who need to seek habeas relief seek habeas relief? You get them lawyers.

But the first type of integrity—the quality of being honest—is for people. The second type of integrity—the quality of being whole—is for things.

Integrity is a nice word, generally considered a positive trait in people, but here’s an idea for Dawn and her Conviction “Integrity” Unit:

Convictions are things, not people. The state of being whole or undivided, in a false conviction? Not a positive trait.

And lawyers who defend the integrity of convictions they know not to have integrity? No integrity.

(The Tarrant County DA also successfully resisted my effort to get the list of people to whom it had sent letters about their 33.021(b) convictions. Resisted because resisting it supported their kind of integrity; successfully because the AG hires lawyers who can’t find work anywhere else.)


  1. Not a deferred-adjudication order. Interesting. 

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