Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Tim Cole Advisory Panel on Wrongful Convictions meets today

The Texas Legislature this year balked at creating a full-blown "Innocence Commission" (largely thanks to opposition from the Governor who vowed to veto a stronger bill), but instead opted to create the Timothy Cole Advisory Panel on Wrongful Convictions, which has its first meeting this morning. Reports the Fort Worth Star-Telegram ("Tim Cole panel begins year-long look at judicial safeguards," Oct. 13):
A blue-ribbon panel named after a wrongfully convicted inmate from Fort Worth is beginning a prolonged mission toward reforming criminal justice in Texas, fueled by a ballooning controversy over the possibility that the state may have executed an innocent man.

The Tim Cole Advisory Panel on Wrongful Convictions will conduct its first meeting today, starting a yearlong effort toward recommending new safeguards against erroneous convictions.

The panel’s review parallels an uproar over the shakeup of a state commission seeking to determine whether a flawed arson investigation led to the 2004 execution of Cameron Todd Willingham, an unemployed mechanic from Corsicana.

Cole was wrongfully convicted in 1986 and died in prison 13 years later before being posthumously exonerated this year. His brother, Cory Session, also of Fort Worth, said he plans to cite the Willingham case when he addresses the panel.

"It’s hard to overlook the possibility that an innocent man was executed," Session said. "Just like my brother Tim till the day he died, they both said, 'I didn’t do it.’ We just can’t take it lightly anymore when somebody says they’re innocent." ...

Tim Cole became the face of the legislative effort that led to creation of the panel during the 2009 session. "Texas still has a long way to go to ensure that the innocent remain free and the guilty are brought to justice," said state Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, who sponsored legislation creating the panel.

The 10-member panel, which will work under the umbrella of the state’s Task Force on Indigent Defense, will conduct a study and recommend new laws to the 2011 Legislature. Its goals include overcoming mistaken eyewitness identifications and false confessions — which account for a large percentage of wrongful convictions in Texas — and increased funding to defend indigent people.

Texas ranked 44th in funding for indigent defense in 2005, spending $6.14 per capita, according to Ellis’s office. Texas has had 41 convictions overturned by DNA, more than any other state.

The group will hold its first meeting today at 10 a.m. at the Texas Association of Counties building downtown in Austin.

I must admit, given what's happened with the Todd Willingham investigation at the Forensic Science Commission, I'm a tad pessimistic as this group begins that the Tim Cole Advisory Panel will be allowed to do their work without political interference, particularly if their findings imply the need for significant changes to the justice system.

I hope they do a thorough job and come up with a sound set of recommendations, but it's not like at this point it's not well known what reforms are needed to fix the problems creating so many false convictions - improving eyewitness ID procedures, recording interrogations, improving protections from mendacious informants, and making forensics more scientific and independent from law enforcement, all come to mind for starters. What's been lacking is political will from the Lege and leadership from the Governor, and this advisory panel can't change those things.

We'll see; the Tim Cole panel will get a chance to show us what they're made of before the 82nd Legislature rolls around. And until then, at least their presence will help keep focus on innocence issues and produce recommendations that will put the topic back on the legislative agenda, in some way shape or form, in 2011. So as my Dad likes to say, it's better than a sharp stick in the eye and a positive development, even if it's less than half a loaf compared to the substantive innocence reforms I'd hoped would be enacted last spring.

2 comments:

nomorenolocontendere said...

Hey Scott,
I find it hard to believe that this post didn't get a lot of attention. I had the same thought regarding the list of politicians on board vs. regular people. I hope they don't let us down.

I would like to add a reform to your list in anticipation they visit GFB. Abolish the adversarial system's use of the Plea Bargian process in regards to no contest / nolo contendere. Returning to Guilty or Not Guilty.

Guilty pleas automatically rec. a reduced jail / prision sentence, plus restitution & fines. Not Guilty pleas automatically rec. phone call to attorney and or PD is appointed and a court date is assigned.

It's got a snowballs chance...but worth a mention.
Thanks,
Tom
PROJECT: Not Guilty

Roger said...

I thought I would share this blog:

By: http://www.shawnkquinn.com/page/2/

A tale of two perjuries
September 16th, 2009

I really haven’t been in the mood to blog much lately. I have at least a good five things to write about that I need to clear out of the queue, but various personal and health issues have made it really difficult to focus on blogging.

A page on americaswronglyconvicted.com details the rather upsetting tale of Robert McClendon, a victim of perjury. It’s a very long narrative and if you have any sense of fairness and justice it’s likely going to be a very upsetting read.

But it gets even better (worse?). Linked from the narrative, early on, is this report from KHOU-TV dating from 2008.

I’m horrified at the difference between the two cases. Perjure oneself for the prosecution, one gets away with it. Perjure oneself for the defense, get nailed to the wall, in this case for aggravated perjury. (For those who don’t have valid law nerd cards, in Texas, aggravated perjury is a third-degree felony; simple perjury, where the statement is not made during or in connection with a simple proceeding or is not material, is a class A misdemeanor.)

Where’s the fairness here? Isn’t perjury the same crime, no matter who is affected? It makes no sense to call what the system dispenses “justice” if it’s not just. Letting perjurers get away with their crime when the end result is innocent people take up prison, parole, and probation spaces needed to handle real criminals, is patently devoid of any sense of decency or scruples. It’s un-American. No, I’ll go farther than that, because this happens in countries besides the US. I think the word is “inhumane.”