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'Systematic Screwup' Makes Texas Defendants Wait Years For Appeals

Shutterstock/ Patrish Jackson

When Jared Daniel filed a criminal appeal from his east Texas prison in 2011, he was certain that soon, he would be free. 

Four years earlier, a Houston jury convicted him of a double homicide. Daniel maintained his innocence, and in the years since, had plenty of time to mull over his frustrations with his trial. 

He called the evidence against him circumstantial. His lawyer had advised against Daniel taking the stand, but never called witnesses to testify on his behalf. Daniel found details in police reports and the trial transcript that he said cast doubt on his guilt. 

Daniel raised his concerns in a writ of habeas corpus, and eagerly waited for a response from the Harris County courts. He would be forced to wait for 11 years, reports the Houston Landing..

Daniel is one of more than 100 defendants who saw their writs of habeas corpus gather dust in the Harris County courts for years and even decades, an inexplicable delay in the administration of justice that has left him fighting long odds to prove his innocence.

His case illustrates the heavy toll of the systemic lapse. Daniel’s arguments for relief hinge on evidence or testimony that may no longer be available – even as the parties responsible for the loss face no consequences for the oversight. 

An affidavit from the Harris County District Clerk’s Office indicates that the trial court put a hold on his writ indefinitely to allow for an investigation into his claims. That investigation never happened, and his appeal was apparently forgotten until 2022, when it was rediscovered during efforts to reduce a case backlog.

“No question, it hurts him,” said Stephen Aslett, Daniel’s current lawyer, of the delay. “It’s a big systematic screw-up.”

The stakes for Daniel, 37, are high: liberty, or the certainty that he will die in a prison jumpsuit. Despite repeatedly falling through the cracks of the criminal justice system, he remains a true believer in its virtues, convinced that he will prevail in the battle over the truth.

"I would like to see my case get overturned and my sentence get vacated,” he said. “I just want my freedom.” 

Daniel has been waiting nearly two decades to tell his story. Finally, the courts are listening. 


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