Monday, April 18, 2011

Speed up exoneration process where prosecution agrees

State Sen. Rodney Ellis has a good bill up tomorrow in the Senate Criminal Justice Committee that would expedite release of exonerated defendants in cases where the prosecution, judge and defense are all in agreement regarding actual innocence claims, allowing the trial court to immediately vacate the conviction instead of waiting, sometimes for months, for the Court of Criminal Appeals (CCA) to restate the trial court's findings and make it official. I'm sure one person testifying for the bill will be Sen. Ellis' legislative intern, Cornelius Dupree, who was required to report to a parole officer until Chairman John Whitmire called out TDCJ at a hearing earlier this spring and had his conditions of supervision removed. The CCA acted favorably on his habeas petition soon thereafter, finalizing his exoneration.

Such defendants may already be released on bail, as was Mr. Dupree, thanks to legislation carried by Chairman Whitmire back in 2001, if memory serves, which created the mechanism to assist exonerated defendants from the Tulia drug sting. Since then, a stream of DNA exonerees and others with successful actual innocence claims have been released on bail by trial courts, but the CCA has processed some cases quite quickly and let others linger mysteriously for months, leaving exonerees in limbo.

SB 1684 would automatically stay a judge's decision to vacate a conviction if prosecutors disagree, sending the case up to the Court of Criminal Appeals which would retain final jurisdiction over habeas disputes. This bill speeds up the process for exonerees in cases where prosecutors aren't disputing innocence and defendants were getting out on bail, anyway. To the extent these habeas cases take more time than routine denials, the legislation has the added benefit of marginally reducing habeas caseloads at the CCA. And since the bill only applies if the prosecution agrees, perhaps the idea won't be met with terrific opposition.

MORE: From one of Ellis' staffers, "This bill has been scaled back significantly. Concerns were raised that the bill as filed was unconstitutional re taking away the CCA's power over writs. See Art. 5, Sec. 5(c)." The draft substitute sent my way is scaled back indeed, merely telling courts to inform the CCA in their rulings that both sides have stipulated to actual innocence. By comparison to the original language, which according to this analysis would require a constitutional amendment, the modified version regrettably won't speed up the process much if at all in cases like Mr. Dupree's.


A Texas PO said...

Wow. A bill that is completely logical. Let's hope it passes.

Anonymous said...

But when will this law take effect if it's passed?

The Homeless Cowboy said...

One would think that if the D.A. and the Defense agree on the point that the person is indeed not guilty of the crime, they should be able to contact the judge and the person should be released within 24 hours. I see nothing standing in the way. That what we have judges for, they have the authority to release defendants who are agreeably innocent

Anonymous said...

What I find most offensive is they will let some of these folks out on BAIL. yet another attempt to extort more money from someone before they leave the system. I don't know about all counties, but anyone released on bail here loses 5% of their cash bond when they go back to collect after trial as an 'administrative' cost..

Thomas R. Griffith said...

Hey Grits, the original language is eerily similar to the TBP&P requirement of applicants seeking a Full Pardon - for innocence to obtain unanimous letters of recommendation from the three trial officials (DA, Trial Court & Sheriff).

Not only is it absurd and ridiculous, it is a flat out brick wall, as there is absolutely no incentive(s) of any of the three to admit they and/or their predecessors knowingly and willingly conspired to falsely arrest, wrongfully prosecute & enable the process by preventing favorable evidence to see the light of day.

As for this Bill and its watered down state, we are back to chanting something is better than nothing. Thanks.