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Drug-Related Conviction of Prominent Virginia Lawyer Overturned


April 1993

A federal appeals court overturned the 1991 conviction of Arlington, Virginia attorney Thomas J. Morris, who was convicted of helping a high-level drug dealer run his operations (Robert Howe, "Conviction Of Virginia Lawyer Overturned In Drug Case," Washington Post, 3/13/93, B1).

The three-judge panel ruled March 12 that the prosecutor unfairly tainted defense testimony of Morris's wife and secretary, Diane Morris, basing its ruling mainly on the principle of marital privilege, which holds that one spouse cannot be compelled to testify against the other. Thomas Morris, 64, was sentenced to 13 years without parole and has spent 18 months in a federal penitentiary in Petersburg, Virginia. Morris was convicted largely on the testimony of Samuel Balbuena, who was convicted in 1988 of masterminding a 60-person drug ring that netted about $7 million. Balbuena confessed to lawyers and reporters several weeks after the trial that he lied in his testimony. Morris was expected to be released within days of the reversal. Justice Department officials would not say if they planned to retry the case.