Criminals who were sent to prison — or sentenced to death — based on discredited scientific evidence would be given a new way to challenge their convictions under a bill passed this morning by the Texas Senate.
In recent years, an increasing number of arson and gunshot convictions in Texas have triggered alarm as new technology proved earlier evidence wrong, and convictions were cast into doubt — including at least one case in which the prisoner was executed.
The measure by state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, would allow discredited scientific evidence that figured in a criminal conviction to be considered by an appeals court in order to establish the innocence of a defendant.
“This could help restore someone’s liberty in cases where discredited evidence was used to convict them,” Whitmire said. “I majored in political science, not forensic science, but I know this will improve current law.”
Advancements in forensic testing — DNA, ballistics and arson — have led to new evidence being uncovered in several cases in Texas. Whitmire said that led him to file the bill, which clarifies how discredited scientific evidence can be used in court appeals.
Key issue for those appeals: That the new information could not have been known earlier, when the defendant was convicted, because the science used to validate it has since been invalidated.
See also an Innocence Project of Texas fact sheet describing an earlier version of the bill.