In 1996, 17-year-old Gilbert Valdez was charged with sexually assaulting a 15-year-old girl whom he knew in San Antonio, Texas. He was accused after driving her to the hospital, where she told staff she had been sexually assaulted.
He was represented by his father, Lucio Valdez, a personal injury attorney with no experience as a criminal lawyer. In 1997, Gilbert Valdez pleaded guilty in return for a 10-year suspended sentence.
After completing the term without further arrest, Gilbert Valdez learned that though he was not required to register as a sex offender at the time of his plea, the registration law had since changed. The change was retroactive to a period before Valdez pleaded guilty, meaning that he was required to register.
He began to re-investigate the case and discovered that the victim had told hospital officials and police that Valdez was not the person who assaulted her.
Valdez retained a new attorney, Stephen Smith, who discovered that the victim admitted that on the night in question she had accompanied Valdez to a house where some older men in their late 20’s were hanging out. The victim became very intoxicated and had sex with one of the older men.
Valdez then dropped her off at another location, where she had sex with an even older man, Smith discovered.
Valdez picked her up the next day and drove her to the hospital where she told medical personnel that “two guys had sex with me.” The detectives mistakenly believed Valdez was the second sexual partner—despite the victim’s statement.
Her interview at the hospital was not disclosed to Valdez before he entered his guilty plea. In addition, by the time Valdez pleaded guilty the victim was in juvenile custody for an unrelated incident and could not be interviewed.
Smith filed a state petition for a writ of habeas corpus alleging that Valdez’s plea was the result of inadequate legal assistance and the failure of the Bexar County District Attorney’s Office to turn over exculpatory evidence.
At a hearing in 2011, the victim again testified that she was sexually assaulted by two other men and not Valdez. Valdez’s father also testified, via affidavit, that he was not qualified to represent his son in a criminal matter and that he failed to investigate the case. He also admitted, “I never thought that my son would have to register as a sex offender because at the time it was not mandatory.”
At a hearing in 2012, the District Attorney’s office conceded that the evidence should have been disclosed and agreed that the writ should be granted. The conviction was then vacated.
On August 23, the District Attorney’s Office dismissed the charge.
– Maurice Possley