Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Support grows for Texas innocence commission, but other reforms needed too

To judge by the public attitudes of the top state officials, Texas may enjoy an important opportunity in the next legislative session to pass key reforms preventing more wrongful convictions. The Fort Worth Star Telegram's Max Baker featured a story Sunday ("Top Texas jurists support idea of innocence commission," May 18) dissecting the politics of a possible "innocence commission" in Texas. Here's an overview from Bakers' assessment of the lay of the land:

Governor Rick Perry: Opposes an innocence commission because it creates a new layer of "bureaucracy."

Lieutenant Gov. David Dewhurst "said he supports creating a commission. His staff said he has cleared the way for a Senate interim study committee to look into the commission's charge."

House Speaker Tom Craddick: Neutral, expects the 81st Lege to debate the issue.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson: Supportive, is "calling on state lawmakers to find money" for an innocence commission.

Court of Criminal Appeals Presiding Judge Sharon Keller: Qualified support.

Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman John Whitmire: Expressed support at recent "innocence summit." Sen. Bob Deuell (R-Greenville) also spoke favorably of the idea at the event.

House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee Chairman Aaron Peña: Publicly supportive, but his Democrat-dominated committee deep sixed Sen. Ellis' innocence commission bill in 2007.

Texas District and County Attorneys Association: Opposed. Said lobbyist Shannon Edmonds of his membership, "They don't trust the people pushing it, and we need to overcome that to make progress in this area." (Hmmm, I thought Dallas District Attorney Craig Watkins supported the idea and numbered among Edmonds' membership. Apparently DAs don't even trust one another!)

I actually understand the Governor's concerns about creating a new layer of bureaucracy. This idea could be a great success or an abject bust depending on how the commission's role is defined, who's on it, and what authority it's granted. One one hand, there are entire categories of old cases like arson that require systematic review. OTOH, if the commission is not empowered to liberate the innocent and can only "recommend" reforms, that wouldn't necessarily do much.

That said, if the Governor and innocence commission critics accept that Texas has a problem with convicting innocent people, that stance IMO then obligates them to support procedural reforms that might prevent such travesties on the front end. The Justice Project has identified eight key reforms that grow out of the examples of recently exonerated people. Most require no new bureaucracy at all:
For folks like the Governor who believe there's a problem, are "committed to providing a fair criminal justice system," but don't want to create any "new bureaucracy," these solutions make a lot of sense and deserve equal attention. There's certainly no need to wait for an "innocence commission" to recommend them.

RELATED: The Lufkin News urges Governor Perry to reconsider his opposition to an innocence commission.


Anonymous said...

Go figure that the idiot DA's in schmuck counties would oppose it. I wonder how many of their convictions would get overturned.

Anonymous said...

I agree with rage! There are counties in Texas where the prosecutors and judges are both there to just win a case, i.e. Harris Co. TX, is one of the worst in Texas.

If the CCA would at least read the appeals and writs sent to them, there would be a lot of case that would be overturned, but apparently the rubber stamp is too convient to them.

The Judicial System is Texas, pardon my language, sucks!! This sytem needs a complete overall and everyone needs to find a new job.

This is my opinion only and you may voice yours, it is still a free country or supposed to be.

Anonymous said...

I agree with rage!

You heard it here first folks.

(thanks mom)

Eddie G. Griffin said...

Great! I'm glad to see that support is growing for the Innocence Commission. Those who oppose it have not a leg to stand on.

Anonymous said...

I definitely agree with your list of reforms, innocence commission or not. As you say, if an innocent person's in jail, the guilty one's still out there.

On an unrelated note, had you heard about an audit being done at Dawson jail in Dallas? There are all sorts of rumors about the state possibly taking it over due to rampant problems, and I heard from someone who got out Monday that there were auditors there when she was being processed. She also said the jail staff put her and several others in a holding cell that had already been audited so the auditors wouldn't catch the delays in getting them processed.

Anonymous said...

Just what the hell do you EXPECT from an innocence commission? I mean really. What is the difference between an innocense commission and a court of law?

Think about it. Duh!

A court of law:
* Is run by an expert on the law.
* Evaluates evidence, including testimony from experts.
* Has a presumption of innocence.
* May order a defendant released immediately.
* Allows the defendant to confront the accuser.
* If the defendant can't afford an attorney he gets one for free.
* Allows the defendant or his attorney to stretch and shade the truth, as long as they don't tell outright lies.

And after all that if the defendant gets an unfavorable outcome, he can get an appeal to an even greater panel of experts, usually at taxpayer expense. Oh, and all these experts are under a recurring threat of losing their jobs if the public is not satifisfied with their work. (elections)

Realistically defendant's won't get a better deal than they already have in the court system. If you want to change something, change that. Stop spinning your wheels with this innocence commission junk. It is a distraction and it will end up as just another rubber stamp on convictions making them even harder to overturn.

Anonymous said...

Dear DUH, if you have never been involved with a court of law, then we will forgive your ignorance. Our courts are so stained with corruption they should all be shut down and every lawyer, DA and Judge should be replaced. Especially the Criminal Court of Appeals is rotten and needs a good house cleaning.

There are several judges on the CCA up for re-election and I intend to vote against anyone other than a judge with a (I) behink their name.

So, DUH, get yourself informed before you make reference to something you evidently are not that familiar with.

Anonymous said...

Of course Governor would oppose it - however, his arguement is not plausible because there is already alot of red tape anywhere and everywhere EXCEPT for the innocent and of course he and the politicians would not want their misdeeds uncovered by housing, abusing and prosecuting innocent people and of course the DA's would not want to stand in agreement because many of the DA's Houston, Collin County, Dallas County, Laredo and small rural areas have and are currently prosecuting the innocent. The innocent don't have enough money to hire free world attorneys and they really don't have enough anger in them just YET - to start a riot, speak out and launch another civil rights movement.

Anonymous said...

Shannon Edmonds is a lobbyist for the DAs. I have heard him at legislative hearings. He opposes all criminal justice reforms - anything that will curtail misconduct and wrongful convictions on the part of DAs, prosecutors and police.