|Bill would bridge 'disconnect' between science and reliable verdicts|
Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Cathy Cochran has openly worried in a published opinion that the “disconnect between changing science and reliable verdicts that can stand the test of time has grown in recent years as the speed with which new science and revised scientific methodologies debunk what had formerly been thought of as reliable forensic science has increased.” Indeed, "The potential problem of relying on today's science in a criminal trial (especially to determine an essential element such as criminal causation or the identity of the perpetrator) is that tomorrow's science sometimes changes and, based upon that changed science, the former verdict may look inaccurate, if not downright ludicrous. But the convicted person is still imprisoned. Given the facts viewed in the fullness of time, today's public may reasonably perceive that the criminal justice system is sometimes unjust and inaccurate."
In an earlier case, Ex Parte Robbins (see earlier Grits coverage), the court on a 5-4 vote refused to provide relief even though admittedly false medical testimony, recanted even by the scientist who originally offered it, was the only evidence accusing the man who'd been convicted. (Both the prosecutor and the defense attorney from the Ex Parte Robbins case, Mike McDougal and Brian Wice, testified at the senate committee hearing.) If SB 344 had been in place, the court would have had firm grounds on which to grant a new trial when forensics that were the "sole bases" of Mr. Robbins' conviction were discredited.
Now it's up to the Texas House to finish the job. This year, with an early start, SB 344 has an excellent chance of making it all the way through the process and resolving these sticky questions which have too often confounded 21st century habeas jurisprudence in Texas. There's no good excuse for not passing this now-agreed bill as quickly as possible, resolving a judicial impasse and crossing off the list another recommendation from the Timothy Cole Advisory Panel on Wrongful Convictions.