Monday, December 22, 2008

Duncan, Ellis championing cause of innocent man who died in prison

On the innocence front, state Senators Robert Duncan (R-Lubbock) and Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) say they'll team up during the 81st Texas Legislature to extend compensation to families of innocent inmates who died in prison before they were exonerated, creating a mechanism to formally clear the name of those unhappy souls who did not live to see their innocence proven.

This effort stems from the Tim Cole case out of Lubbock, where a Texas Tech student was falsely accused of rape after the victim identified him in a photo lineup. Reported the Lubbock Avalanche Journal:
State Sens. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, and Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, may clarify how the state compensates and exonerates wrongfully convicted inmates who die in prison.

The work, along with recognition by Texas courts, could bring closure after 22 years to the family of Timothy Brian Cole and formally recognize what could be the country's first posthumous exoneration.

"I think we need to recognize that for the family," Duncan said. "When the government deprives somebody of liberty, that's a pretty significant right." ...

Legislation Duncan authored seven years ago gave inmates with a legitimate innocence claim easier access to DNA testing. A separate bill by Ellis laid out rules for compensating the innocent Texas had imprisoned.

"I think this basically improves the reliability of our prosecutions and, hopefully, provides some assurance to the public that the criminal justice system has checks and balances," Duncan said in a late November interview. "Hopefully, maintains the integrity of the justice system."
See prior Grits coverage of the Tim Cole case here, here and here.

Meanwhile, the Dallas News Crime Blog informs us that more Texas police departments - Carrollton PD is specifically profiled - are beginning to establish written policies for eyewitness identification procedures. A study by the Justice Project (pdf) released last month found that 88% of Texas police departments do not have any written procedures for how to conduct live lineups or present photo arrays to suspects.

It was a faulty eyewitness testimony that convicted Tim Cole, and the rape victim in that case has bravely joined with Tim Cole's family to help clear his name and demand systemic improvements.

Sen. Ellis has filed SB 117 to require Texas police departments to all implement written eyewitness ID policies that include minimal safeguards like blind administration, cautionary instructions to witnesses (e.g., "the perpetrator might not be there"), and other low-cost/high-benefit measures to reduce false accusations.

RELATED: See this detailed public policy report from The Justice Project on best practices for eyewitness ID procedures.

1 comment:

Red Leatherman said...

"I think we need to recognize that for the family," Duncan said. "When the government deprives somebody of liberty, that's a pretty significant right." ...

And all this time that the government has used incarceration, it hasn't been considered significant?

Scott, thanks for putting all this news in one place.