A state panel studying ways to reduce wrongful convictions in Texas seemed to find what it was looking for during a visit to Tarrant County this year.
After reviewing the district attorney's open-file and electronic discovery system, Mary Anne Wiley, deputy general counsel for Gov. Rick Perry, offered one of several superlatives uttered by panel members.
"This sounds like a slam dunk," Wiley said.
Advocates of stronger open-discovery rules hope the Timothy Cole Advisory Panel on Wrongful Convictions will help lead Texas lawmakers to finally push through uniform statewide policies.
Some point to Tarrant County's system as a model for the state.
"Tarrant County does seem to be the gold standard," said Barry Macha, a panel member and Wichita County district attorney. "It's state-of-the-art, the best system I have seen. Personally, I think it's the direction we ought to go."
But the electronic system comes with a price tag, and some prosecutors remain leery of mandated policies, concerned that sharing certain information could put witnesses or victims at risk or give too big of an advantage to guilty defendants at trial.
In many states, prosecutors are required to turn over discovery documents -- such as police reports, witnesses' names and statements -- to defense lawyers long before a case goes to trial.
The rules are designed to ensure that defendants get fair trials and accurate verdicts.
But in Texas, defendants have few discovery rights and are often at the mercy of the policies of the jurisdiction where they were charged. They must file court motions requesting information that may not arrive in time for thorough review.
This approach landed Texas on the list of states "desperately in need of discovery reform," according to the Justice Project, which promotes fairness and accuracy in the criminal justice system.
Thursday, March 18, 2010
Tarrant electronic discovery seen as gold standard
According to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: