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Dean Cunningham

Other Exonerees Falsely Convicted of Failure to Register as Sex Offender
In October 2013, 53-year-old Dean Cunningham moved to Jacksonville, Texas. Because he had been convicted of attempt to commit sexual conduct with a minor in 1993 in Arizona, he went to the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office and registered as a sex offender.

A few months later, he moved to Gun Barrel City, in Henderson County and failed to file a change of residency. Because he didn’t make his 90-day appointment to verify his residency in Cherokee County, he was arrested in January 2014 and charged with failing to register as a sex offender.

On March 19, 2014, Cunningham pled guilty in Cherokee County Criminal District Court and was sentenced to seven years in prison.

While incarcerated, Cunningham discovered that his obligation to register as a sex offender had expired in September 2008—10 years after he was released from prison in Arizona. He filed an appeal, but the appeal was rejected because he had waived the right to appeal as a condition of his guilty plea.

Cunningham was referred to Jahnna Ward, an appellate attorney in the office of State Counsel for Offenders, a division of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, which represents indigent defendants.

In January 2015, Ward filed a state petition for a writ of habeas corpus seeking to vacate Cunningham’s conviction. At a hearing on the petition, which was opposed by the state, Ward argued that Cunningham’s attorney had provided inadequate legal assistance because he did not investigate Cunningham’s record and discover that Cunningham was no longer obligated to register as a sex offender. The prosecution conceded that the records showed that Cunningham had no such obligation by the time he moved to Cherokee County.

The trial court recommended that the writ be granted and in August 2015, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted the writ and vacated Cunningham’s conviction. On October 5, 2015, the prosecution dismissed the charge.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 10/9/2015
Most Serious Crime:Sex Offender Registration
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2014
Sentence:7 years
Age at the date of reported crime:53
Contributing Factors:Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No