Despite advances in lineup techniques in recent years, many Texas police agencies have failed even to adopt internal guidelines or practices. That leaves the court system vulnerable to more cruel but avoidable outcomes.
A bill to provide safeguards (SB 117) has cleared the Senate, and House members are duty bound to pass it as well. Authored by Sen. Rodney Ellis of Houston and sponsored by Rep. Pete Gallego of Alpine, it requires police to adopt written lineup policies based on best practices established by outside experts. The Dallas House delegation should be the fiercest advocates of this proposal.
A related bill (SB 116) by Ellis, national chairman of the New York-based Innocence Project, addresses the bewildering fact that 25 percent of exonerated men had given false confessions. His bill pushes police agencies to electronically record their suspect interviews as another safeguard on wrongful convictions. It, too, deserves House approval.
Lawmakers should be commended for one bill to safeguard against fatal error. Passed by both House and Senate, it establishes a new office to provide qualified counsel to death row prisoners for state habeas corpus appeals, which may involve constitutional rights and matters of prosecutorial conduct.
Considering Texas' experience with wrongful convictions and active death chamber, we hope both houses also pass a strong version of a pending capital punishment bill (SB 1976). It would ensure access to the courts when a death sentence should be reviewed anew in light of advances in science. Texas must do everything possible to avert fatal error in its courts.
Finally, lawmakers should put the final touches on another long-standing Ellis proposal, that of a so-called innocence commission to analyze the breakdowns exposed by DNA exonerations and recommend ways to address them. HB 498 has cleared the House and awaits Senate approval.
A minor clarification: SB 1976 actually applies to habeas writs for all types of crimes, including but not limited to capital offenses as the editorial states. (An agreement was reached with prosecutors on that legislation, so it will likely be approved with a floor amendment implementing the compromise.) That bill will be heard today on the House floor, while SB 117 and 116 are eligible to be heard but quite a ways down the calendar and could still be pushed back until Friday.