Monday, March 09, 2009

Innocence Commission bill up this morning

I'll be testifying this morning at an 8 a.m. subcommittee meeting of the Texas House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee (live video here) to support legislation by Rep. Ruth McLendon on behalf of the Innocence Project of Texas to create an innocence commission in Texas to identify causes of false convictions and ways to prevent them.

An innocence commission would provide a way to systematically vet the errors that cause false convictions, similar to the way hospitals hold a "morbidity and mortality" conference after someone dies in their care to figure out what went wrong and how to prevent it in the future.

Texas' recent string of DNA exonerations have provided a unique window into the mechanics of false convictions. This bill would create a mechanism for formally identifying sources of error and suggesting ways to reduce their number in the future. Of course, we already know many of these causes - including faulty eyewitness ID procedures, mendacious informants, false confessions, and flawed forensics - but those are only the most prominent examples, hardly an exhaustive list.

I'll also be testifying in support of another bill by Rep. Harold Dutton to provide for expunction of records in cases where the defendant was pardoned, acquitted, or the case is dismissed. Dutton's bill would shift the burden to the state to clear the defendant's name when their accusations are overturned or never come to fruition.

There are several other notable items on the subcommittee agenda as well, including a good open records bill by Dutton that would make grand jury proceedings public records after the panel has disbanded. This would be a key accountability reform for District Attorneys, in particular, allowing the public post facto oversight of an aspect of justice that is at once one of the most critical parts of the process and also the most opaque.

Speaking of Harold Dutton, his bill (discussed here) to require drivers' consent to searches at traffic stops to be either written or recorded will be up in the House Public Safety Committee this afternoon.

UPDATE: See Rep. McLendon's press release about the innocence commission bill


Anonymous said...

You know, It is a shame that there should even have to be a discussion on this. I guess though in this era of "everyone's a bad guy except for me" has made it this way. I hoe Dutton gets what he put in the Bill.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for your hard work and effort.
Maybe you can take just a little 'wild' out of the 'west'. Bring us a little civility.

Anonymous said...

Please let us know what went on in the Innocence Commission hearing. Do you think it will pass? What can we do?