Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Court of Criminal Appeals launches "Criminal Justice Integrity Unit"

On behalf of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (CCA), Judge Barbara Hervey today announced the creation of a "Criminal Justice Integrity Unit," which appears to be another blue-ribbon panel of bigwigs charged with making recommendations - one hopes with an eye toward proposing changes during the 81st Texas Legislature next year. The group will focus on a range of topics, including:
  • Improving the quality of defense counsel available for indigent defendants.
  • Implementing procedures to improve eyewitness identification
  • Making recommendations to eliminate improper interrogations and to protect against false confessions.
  • Reforming the standards for collection, preservation and storage of evidence.
  • Improving crime lab reliability.
  • Improving attorney practices and accountability
  • Adequately compesating the wrongfully convicted.
  • Implementing writ training.
  • Establishing local, "home rule" protocol for the prevention of wrongful convictions.
I can't find the press release online, but the membership of the group appears reasonably broad-based compared to previous, similar efforts. It includes Judge Hervey, state Senator Rodney Ellis, Gov. Perry's deputy general counsel Mary Anne Wiley, Bill Allison from the UT law school, Pat Johnson from the DPS Crime Lab, James McLaughlin of the Texas Police Chiefs Association, Dallas DA Craig Watkins, El Paso DA Jaime Esparza, state Rep. Jim McReynolds, Dallas criminal defense attorney Gary Udashen, San Antonio District Judge Sid Harle, and Jim Bethke from the Texas Task Force on Indigent Defense.

The group has no formal authority, but Hervey's press release pledged an action-oriented agenda: "Although we applaud all previous studies and dialogue," it declared, "it is now time to act and move for reform. While more government does not necessarily mean better government, reflection and willingness to improve does respond to the needs of our system and our citizens."

The press release provides no detail regarding exactly what the new "unit" will do, besides "move for reform." But it's nice to see the CCA being proactive on a topic about which in the past they've been recalcitrant. I'll see what else I can find out about the entity in the coming days.

UPDATE: Here's the initial Dallas News coverage.


Anonymous said...

If this committee does what they have pledged to, then go for it. But the 1st & 14th CCA needs to clean it's house before casting stones.

Both of these courts just rubber stamp every case when the judge signs with the State and do not even consider the Writs filed.

So, before you take on something of this sort, look around and dust your own house and after that, then you can be taken seriously.

Anonymous said...

Texas strives to have the very best system for ensuring particular individuals are actually guilty.

This way we don't need to feel bad about sentencing them to one night of rehabilitation.

Anonymous said...

Lets hope Judge Sid Harle starts with Bill Fitzgerald's UA lab and all that it wrongfully convicted.

Anonymous said...

Em, I really don't want to read all that crap, but did anyone mention anything about lawyers sleeping through capitol trials?

Just sayin'

Anonymous said...

I'm willing to give this "Unit" a chance to make some meaningful recommendations to the Legislature, and to aggressively lobby for those changes. On the other hand, I will not be surprised, even though disappointed, if it turns out to be just another run of the mill dud.

Anonymous said...

Is it just me, or is there someone missing from this panel? What about having an exoneree representative who can truly speak to the causes of wrongful convictions and the difficulties faced by exonerees after release?

Anonymous said...

Shouldn't the Court of Criminal Appeals already be BY ITS VERY NATURE a "Criminal Justice Integrity Unit."

I mean, isn't that their job to ensure the integrity of criminal justice in Texas?

If not them, who?

Anonymous said...

My question is this, if none of the people have even been caugh up int he "system" how can they know where the "holes" in the system are. Texas is always good of talking the good talk, but will not put forth the effort to "walk the walk". So here we go with another useless committee. Why not appoint some people to this "panel" that have sactually delt with the judicial system in Texas so they'd have a real "expert" opinion...heck they could even ask family members of some "experts" to assist, since we see the system from a totally different side.

Anonymous said...

(something about foxes watching hen houses)

Michael said...

Some nice personnel. I would have liked for Terry Keel to be among them, but I'm sure he'll be a resource.

Not sure who was mentioning what about the 1st and 14th Courts of Appeals, but the first thing they should do is move one of them. Back to Galveston, maybe, or somewhere so that SCOT and CCA won't have to waste 30% of their dockets resolving conflicts between the two most political, least scholarly courts.

Anonymous said...

I doubt that the 1st and 14th Courts of Appeals are "rubberstamping" post-conviction writs of habeas corpus because the intermediate appellate courts do not have jurisdiction to even consider post-conviction writs of habeas corpus.

All post-conviction writs of habeas corpus go directly from the trial court to the Court of Criminal Appeals.