The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals has finally handed down a ruling of sorts in the case of Daniel Holtzclaw. More than a year of waiting resulted in mixed emotions when the ruling was read. Initially it looked as if Daniel Holtzclaw finally had a ruling in his favor, but upon reading the actual order, it quickly became apparent that what the Criminal Court of Appeals did was to throw the defense a proverbial bone. Did Daniel Holtzclaw score a win? In a ruling that is all about technicalities, yes, technically the ruling is in his favor.
The court has directed that some previously sealed documents are to be unsealed, as redacted. There are still four items that will remain sealed from public view, The State’s Original motion filed on 05/04/17, the Order Remanding for In Camera Hearing filed on 05/30/17, the District Court Order and Amended Order filed on 08/07/17 and 08/08/17, and finally the transcripts and Exhibits admitted in the in camera hearing filed 08/10/17 and 08/16/17 Daniel Holtzclaw’s legal counsel now has access to these materials. The court has also entered an Order Setting Briefing Schedule. At the time of this ruling, Daniel Holtzclaw’s legal counsel had seen all but the State’s Original Motion, which he is now able to view in camera.
Still, there are some troubling aspects to the order, both in the majority, and in the dissenting opinions. One of the first things to note is that while all parties are in agreement that the Court of Criminal Appeals remanded back to the District Court for an in camera hearing, apparently not all parties agree on what in camera actually means. While it is true that this hearing which spanned 2 days was definitely outside the view of the public, it was also outside the view of the defense counsel. This, by definition, makes the hearing an ex parte hearing, which was not was was ordered by the CCA. With the newly unsealed, albeit redacted, documents, it appears that this is the opposite of what the CCA ordered. Rather than address this on it’s face, the CCA has chosen to tsk tsk the difference by saying that exclusion from this hearing did not harm the defense in any way.
While that might not be an outright lie, it is safe to assume that is it most definitely a stretch. The heart of the issue is Elaine Taylor’s work performance. The State were the ones to actually bring to light that there may be concerns in regard to the Holtzclaw case. Since the State did this, I think we can safely say that they did NOT hold two days of ex parte hearings to discuss her failure to adhere to dress code, or her abuse of break times. The ex parte hearings were directly related to the job she performed in the Holtzclaw case. Since the exhibits are not available to the public, we cannot say there was any exculpatory evidence that the defense is entitled to under Brady. However, if there is, in fact, a negative personnel review of her work, or even notes gathered in preparation for such a review, then it is definitely valuable to the defense in terms of impeachment evidence.
Another troubling aspect is that without any input from the defense on the materials in the ex parte hearing, Judge Henderson is supported in his ruling of “no harm, no foul.” Keeping in mind that Oklahoma has a pretty appalling legacy of corruption à la Joyce Gilchrist and Bob Macey, it would seem prudent to err on the side of caution, but prudence isn’t a strong point in Oklahoma, it seems. Just as referring to the ex parte hearings as in camera hearings doesn’t make it a fact, claiming that there was nothing beneficial to the defense after two days of a one-sided hearing doesn’t make it fact either. The appearance given that both the District Court and the Court of Criminal Appeals show such dogged determination to rewrite legal definitions and interpretations of established case law should be concerning to any citizen of Oklahoma.
The other part of Daniel Holtzclaw’s hollow victory is the Order Setting The Briefing Schedule. It is a victory that allows the Holtzclaw defense to supplement the Application for Evidentiary Hearing. This could potentially be beneficial later in the appeals process if it adds information to the record. The hollow part of the victory is that Holtzclaw is once again at the mercy of the court’s time. Once all filings have been submitted, some 110 days from now, barring any requests for additional time, he is back to waiting on the court to rule on the Application. We’ve already seen how slowly the wheels of justice turn in Oklahoma, and there is no reason at this point in time to think this will be any different. The state plays cat and mouse while keeping Daniel Holtzclaw incarcerated, and prison is a very dangerous place for a former police officer.
So, yes, in the grand scheme of things, Daniel Holtzclaw has scored a victory. In a case where media bias, racial disparity, questionable experts, a testifying district attorney, and a cloud of secrecy has reigned supreme, any victory can seem to be huge. In a case where the secrecy was so solid that his own defense attorney had to glean information from local and national media coverage because the court blocked his access, every little victory may help in the long run. How long will that run be? Nobody really knows. Based on every other aspect of this case, it’s probably safe to speculate that the long run will be just that – long. The Order has proven that judicial system wants to redefine both accepted legal terminology and case law. We will just have to wait and see if they want to redefine the Constitution as well.
Below is a statement released by the Holtzclaw family regarding yesterday’s ruling:
THE HOLTZCLAW FAMILY STATEMENT REGARDING THE DEVELOPMENTS FROM THE COURT OF CRIMINAL APPEALS:
“Daniel is an innocent man who was wrongly convicted based on fatally flawed forensic evidence, a biased and incompetent police investigation, and prosecutorial misconduct. He did not receive a fair trial. The bottom line on the new ruling from the Court of Criminal Appeals is that it affirms Daniel’s and our belief–as well as the opinion of legal observers nationwide — that the secret hearings were also flawed and wrongly denied his lawyers access to the process.
We look forward to the timely adjudication of Daniel’s appeal. We are glad Daniel’s lawyer will be allowed to amend Daniel’s motion for an evidentiary hearing and that the briefing schedule has been set.
We hope and pray the court comes to the same conclusion that six internationally-renowned scientists did when they reviewed forensic analyst Elaine Taylor’s work:
Daniel deserves a new trial.”
Stay tuned as we cover the dissents offered, and why this should concern every citizen of Oklahoma.