Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Jessica's Law needs amending on House floor

The lower chamber's version of Jessica's Law (HB 8) comes up on the Texas House floor tomorrow on the "emergency calendar," making it the first signficant bill of the session.

Even proponents of Jessica's Law over at the Burnt Orange Report have come around to the view that the bill needs to be amended, at a minimum, to avoid applying these harsh penalties to innocent people. I've previously suggested several possible changes to HB 8 on Grits, any of which would, as floor amendments, signficiantly improve the bill:
  • Destruction of DNA Evidence. Disallow destruction of DNA evidence in sexual assault cases as part of a plea agreement or for any other purpose until the sentence is complete.
  • Taping Interrogations. Require police to videotape all interrogations in sexual assault cases to avoid coerced confessions.
  • Corroboration. Require corroboration for eyewitesses and victims of sexual assault when they did not previously know the defendant.
  • Lineup Procedures. Require police to use established best practices for police lineups including sequential lineups (photos and live lineups) and using a someone besides the primary investigator to run the lineup who does not know the identiy of the suspect. (See, e.g., New Jersey and California best practices.)
  • Don't Expand Statute of Limitations. The provision expanding the statute of limitations should be removed because it will increase the likelihood of erroneous eyewitness testimony, and because it will cause a short-term increase in the number of offenders sentenced, which LBB failed to account for in their fiscal note.
  • Employ Community-Based Treatment. The best research (see the House Corrections Committee interim report) says that for most sex offenders community-based treatment is more effective than incarceration.
  • Wrong Crime for Death Penalty. Even with significant innocence reforms, the death penalty provision invites second offenders to murder their child victims if they're the only witness to avoid capital punishment. For the sake of child victims, not the offenders, this is the wrong punishment for this crime.
I hope we see some folks from both parties stepping up tomorrow to support changes like these and other innocence reforms to HB 8, especially after it sailed out of the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee on a desk vote without a single change from its filed form! It's one thing to pass a bill because you campaigned on the topic - it's another to fail to exercise oversight to avoid the worst, obvious abuses up front when you have the chance.

RELATED: The Real Cost of Jessica's Law: Analyzing the Fiscal Note for HB 8.

2/28 UPDATE: HB 8 will be the first bill up this morning (Wednesday) on the "emergency calendar" of the Texas House, which begins session at 10 a.m..

NUTHER UPDATE: Governing magazine's 13th Floor blog says other states are pulling a "Sex Offender Switcheroo" by rejecting tuffer laws because they're expensive and ineffective.

FINAL UPDATE: The House is standing at ease until 1:15 p.m.. Go here for this afternoon's livestream.

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