When Prosecutors Have “The Innate Intellect Of A Fifth-Grader”
Jan. 4, 2016 (Mimesis Law) — In 2009, Maria Uriostegui was stabbed in the stomach and elsewhere at least nine times, in Denton, Texas. Her estranged husband, Silvano Uriostegui, was arrested and charged with Aggravated Assault with a Deadly Weapon, a second degree felony punishable by 2 – 20 years in prison, and known as a “3g” offense in Texas. That means that if the jury finds that a deadly weapon was used, the convicted person must serve one-half of the sentence before being eligible for parole.
Silvano was represented by a court-appointed attorney, Victor Amador, and after being informed that Maria had identified him as the assailant, pled guilty but requested that a jury set his sentence.
That’s when the problem started. The case was being tried by Bill Schultz and Forrest Beadle of the Denton County Criminal District Attorney’s Office. The prosecution called Maria to the stand to testify using a translator (Maria only spoke Spanish), where Maria indicated that she could not positively identify her attacker, but believed that it was Silvano because of his smell and the boots he was wearing.
At this point, chaos ensued, with Amador immediately moving for a mistrial on the grounds that exculpatory evidence had been withheld from the defense in violation of Brady v. Maryland. The judge in the case, the Hon. Steve Burgess, granted the motion for a mistrial, although he stated he did not believe the State had been “intentionally deceptive.”
Following the mistrial, Amador filed a writ of habeas corpus asking that Silvano be released from jail and that jeopardy attach due to the intentional violation of Brady by the prosecution. You see, after Schultz found out that Maria did not see Silvano’s face, he had enough doubt to investigate another man, Alvero Malagon, to see if he could have committed the assault, only Malagon was in prison at the time of the offense.
Following a hearing, the judge granted the writ, effectively barring further prosecution. And the judge was pissed, stating:
I can’t fathom how they do not understand this is a Brady violation only in retrospect. My jaw dropped to the ground when Mrs. Uriostegui testified the way that she did. I was shocked. And for the state to actually know this and not disclose it . . . , the only good thing I can say from this miserable hearing is at least Forrest Beadle told the truth and was not evasive and was straightforward. I don’t particularly like his answers, but he at least was honest.
I can’t fathom how somebody who’s been to law school, let alone practiced law for this period of time, doesn’t understand Brady, doesn’t understand the law. And based upon their answers, the way they were answered – the questions were answered, the original conduct in trial, I can only find that they intentionally goaded the defense into having to make a motion for mistrial, that they purposefully withheld Brady material.
And how disingenuous it is to get up here and testify that you don’t think that it’s Brady that the victim can’t identify by face or by anything other than smell and a boot who the attacker is, to indicate, as I hear indicated in the original trial that the state even had some doubt as to who the attacker was because she – because the victim could not identify the face, because she had previously been assaulted, but that individual was in prison at the time that this assault occurred. (emphasis added)
So after the hearing, the DA’s office filed the required Brady violation notice with the State Bar, but stated that the ethical violation was “unintentional.” Amador, following up on the matter, filed a grievance with the State Bar against Schultz, and in October, 2014 the Bar suspended Schultz’s license for six months, then probated the suspension. Schultz appealed, and on December 15, 2015, the Board of Disciplinary Appeals affirmed the suspension, noting:
First, Schultz evaluated the information that Maria could identify her attacker only indirectly and decided that it was not exculpatory. This is at least some evidence that his decision not to reveal the information to the defense was deliberate. Second, Schultz understood the significance of the deficiencies of Maria’s identification because he took the further step of investigating and confirming that Alvero Malagon, another possible suspect, was incarcerated on the date of the attack. Third, and most importantly, there is substantial evidence that Schultz then affirmatively represented to the defense that he had disclosed all exculpatory evidence when he had not. By misrepresenting that he had provided full discovery, Schultz perpetuated the defense’s mistaken belief that it had received all exculpatory evidence.
This is very simple stuff, and easy to comply with. I was fortunate in law school to have an internship with the local DA and to have taken a practicum course from a well-regarded prosecutor, Jack Strickland.* He said that if it takes over 10 seconds to decide if evidence is exculpatory, then it is and you turn it over to the defense. Period. It’s not rocket science, and it’s not difficult.
The final comment by Judge Burgess is fitting:
A woman that was knifed nine times in the gut and elsewhere doesn’t get justice because nobody can read Brady, understand Brady, or has the innate intellect of a fifth-grader.
It seems that, at least in Texas, more and more prosecutors are being held to ethical standards. Charles Sebesta was disbarred for misconduct. John Jackson is facing disciplinary proceedings for misconduct. Ken Anderson surrendered his law license and served nine days in jail for misconduct. It doesn’t always happen, and as a matter of fact, is rare. Normally, nothing happens.
Both Schultz and Beadle are still employed by the Denton County DA. That office did not respond to a request for comment.