June 15, 2023 — University of Houston Law Center professor Sandra Guerra Thompson recently received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Hispanic Bar Association of Houston in recognition of her work as an engaged educator, a leading scholar, and a community champion.
“The University of Houston Law Center is very proud of Professor Guerra Thompson's many accomplishments. We congratulate Professor Guerra Thompson on this very well-deserved honor,” said UH Law Center Dean Leonard M. Baynes.
The Newell H. Blakely Chair Professor of Law and former Director of UHLC’s Criminal Justice Institute, Thompson’s work is largely centered on her expertise in criminal law, evidence, the regulation of forensic evidence, and federal asset forfeiture.
For Thompson, receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Hispanic Bar Association of Houston’s 35th Annual Gala in May was both “overwhelming” and “exciting.”
The first Latina-tenured law professor in Texas, Thompson’s tenure has granted her “the freedom to pursue different lines of intellectual thought.” Much of her scholarship has been of direct benefit to the Greater Houston community.
“We’re trying to produce the best students and help the community be the best version of itself…by using studies, empirical data, and well thought out and reasoned research,” Thompson said.
Thompson’s recent scholarship includes Debiasing Criminal Justice, A Systemic Approach to Systemic Problems: Responding to Irregularities in the Criminal Justice System, and Cops in Lab Coats: Curbing Wrongful Convictions Through Independent Forensic Laboratories.
In 2012, Thompson was tapped by Houston Mayor Annise Parker to serve as a founding board member of the Houston Forensic Science Center, the successor of the Houston Police Department Crime Lab, a facility that had a reputation for being one of the worst crime labs in the country. According to Thompson, even former Houston Police Department chiefs said there should be no executions in cases where the evidence was produced in that lab. The Forensic Science Center has risen to national and international prominence for its “unparalleled” quality control system, said Thompson.
“I have found there’s a synergy between my community work and my scholarship,” Thompson said. “The scholarship enriches my community work because I have more knowledge about best practices and all the ideas out there that I can bring to my community work. The community work in turn gives me ideas about new avenues of research.”
In addition to her scholarship and community work concerning wrongful convictions, Thompson has also been involved in “advocating for bail reform and improving the bail system.” She currently serves as the Deputy Monitor for the federal consent decree in the ODonnell et al. v. Harris County et al. class action lawsuit.
A Laredo, Texas native, Thompson graduated from Yale Law School in 1988. Thompson was an assistant district attorney in the New York County District Attorney until 1990 when she joined the University of Houston Law Center where she teaches courses like criminal law and evidence. For Thompson, some of “the most rewarding moments” of her career come from teaching and mentoring law students.
In addition to Thompson, the Hispanic Bar Association also recognized UHLC alumna Justice Amparo Guerra (J.D. ‘22) for Judge of the Year and Harris County Commissioner and UHLC adjunct law professor Lesley Briones as Trailblazer of the Year. The President’s Award recipients for 2023 were Marisa V. Leon, Adan D. Briones, Lena Silva, UHLC alumna Islara Rodriguez Irgit (J.D. ‘13) and UHLC alumna Ruth Mendez (J.D. ‘06).
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