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Prosecutors drop 1 of 13 felony charges against Rep. Dawnna Dukes

Prosecutors dropped one of their 13 felony charges against state Rep. Dawnna Dukes on Wednesday, acknowledging that their case against the Austin Democrat has weakened.

State Rep. Dawnna Dukes, D-Austin, has a laugh with state Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, during an afternoon budget debate on April 6, 2017.  

Prosecutors have dropped one of their felony charges against state Rep. Dawnna Dukes, acknowledging that their case against the Austin Democrat has weakened since a grand jury indicted her on that and 12 other felony counts earlier this year.

The Travis County district attorney’s office wrote last week that evidence they had used — gathered from Dukes’ cell phone — was incorrect. Originally, prosecutors claimed Dukes’ cell phone data showed she was out of Austin on a day when she received payment for working at the Capitol. But, according to Wednesday’s filing, a crime analyst from the Department of Public Safety, in at least one instance, mixed up the data she extracted from Dukes’ phone, using information from the wrong calendar date.

That means prosecutors will abandon one felony charge alleging Dukes had falsified travel information to collect a state official’s daily pay on a day when she did not work at the Capitol. The Travis County District Attorney’s office has until Oct. 30 to say whether it will continue to pursue the other 12 felony charges.

“When analyzing the correct data ... [the Department of Public Safety] stated Ms. Dukes’ cell phone indicated activity near downtown Austin, Texas, which puts her within range of the Capitol building,” prosecutors wrote.

A lawyer for Dukes praised the decision.

“The prosecution made the right decision by dropping this charge,” Shaun Clarke, the attorney, said in an email. “Now they need to drop the twelve remaining charges.”

Travis County prosecutors were forced to put their felony case on hold last month after claiming another witness in the case had changed his story about the official paperwork that Dukes was accused of having falsified. Prosecutors asked for more time before bringing Dukes to trial, and Travis County Judge Brad Urrutia set an Oct. 30 deadline for prosecutors to decide whether they still had a felony case to bring.

At the same time, Dukes faces two misdemeanor charges of abuse of official capacity by a public servant, punishable by up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $4,000. Those charges allege that Dukes used her legislative staff to work on the African-American Community Heritage Festival and be a live-in nanny for her daughter.

In June, the 12-term lawmaker pleaded not guilty.

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Criminal justice Politics 85th Legislative Session Dawnna Dukes Texas House of Representatives