Houston's Harris County District Clerk uncovered about 100 appeals of criminal defendants who said they were unlawfully incarcerated, but their cases languished in the court system for years or even decades. The appeals, at least one of which dates to the mid-1990s, were discovered last year during efforts to reduce the case backlog in the county criminal courts, Houston Landing reports. The clerks office said it forwarded the old cases to Texas’ highest criminal court, the Court of Criminal Appeals, after consulting with the District Attorney’s Office. “By the end of 2022, all of these cases had been properly forwarded,” the clerk said. All the court filings argue unlawful incarceration. When successful, these applications can potentially overturn sentences or convictions. To date, the Court of Criminal Appeals has responded to at least three of the filings found by the clerk’s office – all of them decades old.
Syed Rabbani, a Bangladeshi immigrant convicted of capital murder in 1988, filed a challenge to his sentence in 1994. In June, after the Court of Criminal Appeals sent his challenge back to the Harris County court that convicted him, the District Attorney’s office agreed that Rabbani deserved a new sentencing hearing, nearly 30 years after the challenge was filed. Rabbani, who is mentally ill, was declared incompetent to face execution but remains on death row. Tony Dixon, a man with intellectual disabilities serving a life sentence for capital murder, challenged his conviction in 1998. Neither the courts nor his attorney resolved the case. The Court of Criminal Appeals sent the case back to the trial court last week with instructions to review Dixon’s claim that he was incompetent to stand trial. The third case is Tommy Nathaniel Taylor, who was convicted of aggravated robbery and possession of a controlled substance in 1994. In 1995, he filed an appeal challenging his incarceration for possession. Like the Dixon and Rabbani cases, the Court of Criminal Appeals did not receive the appeal until last year. The high court sent Taylor’s case back to the convicting court for review. In a scathing opinion, Judge David Newell raised serious concerns about the “lost and found” cases of Harris County, describing an apparent “systemic failure” of unknown scope that left a large number of appeals forgotten. Newell asked the court to set a hearing for the clerk to explain the delay in Taylor’s case and others.