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Colton Lester

Other Texas exonerations with no crime and inadequate legal defense
On April 28, 2014, sheriff’s deputies in Polk County, Texas arrested 17-year-old Colton Lester on charges of attempted online solicitation of a minor. Police began investigating after parents of girls aged 11 to 13 said they were concerned about online conversations the girls were having with Lester.

On August 26, 2014, Lester, a junior at Livingston High School in Livingston, Texas, pled guilty to one count of attempted online solicitation of a minor for texting a girl who was a freshman about “hooking up.” Lester was sentenced to five years of deferred adjudication and ordered to pay a $2,000 fine, perform 240 hours of community service, and complete sex offender counseling.

On September 14, 2016, Lester’s deferred adjudication was revoked because of a probation violation and he was sentenced to three years in prison.

While in prison, Lester discovered that the charge of online solicitation of a minor had been declared unconstitutional in October 2013. At that time, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled that the statute was “overbroad because it prohibits a wide array of constitutionally protected speech and is not narrowly drawn to achieve only the legitimate objective of protecting children from sexual abuse.”

In November 2017, Lester filed a state law petition for a writ of habeas corpus claiming that when he pled guilty in 2014 and when his probation was revoked in 2016, his defense lawyers provided an inadequate legal defense by failing to realize that the statute had been struck down more than six months before he was arrested.

On April 11, 2018, the Court of Criminal Appeals granted the writ and vacated Lester’s conviction. On April 24, 2018, the case was dismissed and Lester was released.

In July 2018, Lester filed a claim for compensation from the state of Texas for the time he was incarcerated. However, the Texas state comptroller’s office denied the claim on the ground that he had not received a gubernatorial pardon or been declared factually innocent.

Lester appealed and on May 15, 2020, the Texas Supreme Court ordered compensation to be paid. He received $166,667 later that year.

“This is an egregious case of the criminal justice system gone wrong,” the court declared. “Here, as a matter of historical fact, Lester’s conduct was not a crime at the time it was committed because the Court of Criminal Appeals had already declared the online solicitation statute unconstitutional.

“Lester is therefore actually innocent in the same way that someone taking a stroll in the park is actually innocent of the crime of walking on a sidewalk,” the court said.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 5/21/2020
Last Updated: 2/2/2021
Most Serious Crime:Solicitation
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2014
Sentence:3 years
Age at the date of reported crime:17
Contributing Factors:Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No