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Tina Pihota

Other Bexar County Cases
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On December 10, 2007, 41-year-old Tina Pihota was arrested in University City, Texas on a charge of assaulting an off-duty police officer.

Calloway Lawson, a police officer in nearby Cibolo, Texas, reported that Pihota struck him with her vehicle in a parking lot. Lawson said that he had seen Pihota and knew that she had active arrest warrants for charges pending in Cibolo. Lawson said that Pihota said she wanted to drive to her sister’s house before being arrested to avoid impoundment of her vehicle, but when he refused, she drove away and struck him. Lawson called for help and police arrested Pihota.

Pihota insisted to her lawyer that she had not struck Lawson. Nevertheless, on June 1, 2009, she pled guilty in Bexar County Criminal District Court to assaulting a public servant. She was sentenced to probation, which she completed successfully.

In May 2016, Pihota, acting without a lawyer, filed a state law petition for a writ of habeas corpus seeking to vacate her conviction. The petition contended that her defense attorney failed to adequately investigate her case and as a result failed to discover information that could have been used at a trial to challenge Lawson’s credibility. The writ also noted that Pihota’s attorney had failed to interview a friend of Pihota who was with her at the time of the incident and could have testified that Pihota did not strike Lawson.

The Bexar County conviction integrity unit re-investigated the case and found evidence that would have impeached Lawson’s credibility but was never sought by Pihota’s lawyer and had never been disclosed to the prosecutor.

Lawson had been arrested for drunk driving on May 27, 2007, about six months before Pihota’s arrest. Lawson had been reprimanded for failing to report the arrest within 30 days. He was fired from the Cibolo police department on December 31, 2008—while Pihota’s case was still pending and six months before she pled guilty—for failing to come to work for more than 180 days.

Moreover, an investigation by the city of Cibolo revealed that Lawson had been working for another employer without notifying the department—a violation of police policy—and had made a false statement on an application for unemployment benefits.

In addition, Lawson had been arrested in 1996 on a charge of impersonating a police officer. Though that charge had been dismissed, the record that case also was not disclosed to Pihota. The drunk driving charge was dismissed as well, but not until after Pihota pled guilty.

The prosecution supported Pihota’s writ and on November 2, 2016, the writ was granted, the conviction was vacated, and the case was dismissed.

District Judge Kevin O’Connell ruled Pihota’s lawyer had provided an inadequate legal defense by failing to discover the adverse information about Lawson. The failure “rendered counsel’s performance deficient,” Judge O’Connell ruled. “Furthermore, the advice (Pihota) received was not within the range of competence demanded of attorneys in criminal cases.”

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 1/8/2017
State:Texas
County:Bexar
Most Serious Crime:Assault
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2007
Convicted:2009
Exonerated:2016
Sentence:Probation
Race:Caucasian
Sex:Female
Age at the date of crime:41
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No