Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Bill to allow habeas relief on junk science cases passes Texas Senate

Excellent news: Sen. John Whitmire's SB 344, which would expand access to habeas corpus relief for people falsely convicted based on junk science, passed the Texas Senate yesterday on a 28-3 vote. (The three were Senators Brian Birdwell, Dan Patrick and Jane Nelson. Dr. Charles Schwertner, who without explanation voted against the bill in committee, supported it on the floor). A couple of small tweaks, that IMO actually improved the bill, satisfied complaints from the Harris County DA's office, the sole opposition in the past, and with their blessing signaled by support from state Sen. Joan Huffman, it passed rather easily. See a good backgrounder on a complex topic by Maurice Chammah at the Texas Tribune. (In the interest of full disclosure, this is an issue on which I've worked as an advocate for the Innocence Project of Texas.)

Bill would bridge 'disconnect' between science and reliable verdicts
Now SB 344 heads to the House where Rep. Sylvester Turner is carrying the companion (for which SB 344 will be substituted). This bill has made it through the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee twice before - the hangups have come in 2009 because of the Voter ID chubfest that killed hundreds of bills including this one, and in 2011 by delays at the committee level - Criminal Jurisprudence and Calendars - that should be mitigated (knock wood) with the main, historical opposition now standing aside. It's a minor tweak that will impact a small but difficult group of often high-profile cases where the Court of Criminal Appeals simply cannot agree on the correct authority or standard on which to base their decisions. In that sense, the bill bolsters the Great Writ to confront 21st century challenges.

Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Cathy Cochran has openly worried in a published opinion that the “disconnect between changing science and reliable verdicts that can stand the test of time has grown in recent years as the speed with which new science and revised scientific methodologies debunk what had formerly been thought of as reliable forensic science has increased.” Indeed, "The potential problem of relying on today's science in a criminal trial (especially to determine an essential element such as criminal causation or the identity of the perpetrator) is that tomorrow's science sometimes changes and, based upon that changed science, the former verdict may look inaccurate, if not downright ludicrous. But the convicted person is still imprisoned. Given the facts viewed in the fullness of time, today's public may reasonably perceive that the criminal justice system is sometimes unjust and inaccurate."

In an earlier case, Ex Parte Robbins (see earlier Grits coverage), the court on a 5-4 vote refused to provide relief even though admittedly false medical testimony, recanted even by the scientist who originally offered it, was the only evidence accusing the man who'd been convicted. (Both the prosecutor and the defense attorney from the Ex Parte Robbins case, Mike McDougal and Brian Wice, testified at the senate committee hearing.) If SB 344 had been in place, the court would have had firm grounds on which to grant a new trial when forensics that were the "sole bases" of Mr. Robbins' conviction were discredited.

Now it's up to the Texas House to finish the job. This year, with an early start, SB 344 has an excellent chance of making it all the way through the process and resolving these sticky questions which have too often confounded 21st century habeas jurisprudence in Texas. There's no good excuse for not passing this now-agreed bill as quickly as possible, resolving a judicial impasse and crossing off the list another recommendation from the Timothy Cole Advisory Panel on Wrongful Convictions.


Anonymous said...

Gotta love Senator Birdwell. First he votes in two different states in the same election, then runs for office before he's able to formally establish residency in Texas, and now he opposes a bill that would help reduce convictions based on junk science.

Is anybody asking themselves what district Birdwell is from? The one that includes Navarro County, where Willingham was railroaded--based on science that has been profoundly discredited.

Thomas R. Griffith said...

Hey Grits, since it’s too early to offer up a hardy congrats to all involved in the endeavor to prevent wrongful convictions as well as address those based on a handpicked issue (junk science), I promise to be one of the first out of the gate to do so when you proudly announce its passing.

Thanks for all that you do on behalf of others.

Anonymous said...

So what is Patrick's problem (other than being pro-Iraq war yet he never served his country in uniform and happened to screw over his creditors twice, I understand, via bankruptcy)? Curious people want to know.

Thomas R. Griffith said...

While we await the opportunity to enjoy a criminal justice system reform victory dance, I ask that you to consider challenging yourself to: advocate on behalf of the unexoneratables (in your spare time & pro bono [one hour a month?] & while the iron is hot) regarding the historically & systematically ignored issues:

(You are not being singled out to part the waters. It's my duty to pose it to anyone & everyone in the mix. If everyone steps up and does their part it could very well end the Cherry Picking for Innocence as we know it.) Pick: none, one or all. Regardless, again, thanks for all that you do on behalf of others.

Thomas R. Griffith said...

*Action - Convince / implore / recommend the IPoT to stop using the exception clause “Requirement” (or explain why it's utilized) that prevents the: non-DNA, non-Death Row, Closed / Inactive cases of false arrests' & subsequent wrongful convictions' claims' from being considered (including the deceptive Plea Bargaining with probationers abuses).

Reason(s) - It should not matter if the Applicant has exhausted all of the direct appeals. Taking this stance simply ignores the 97%. No one files appeals in the hoe squad & Plea Bargain abuse prevents it. Standing strong simply aids the rogue [active & retired – Cop(s), Defense, ADA(s) & Judge(s)] as it ignores the majority of ‘their’ victims' & does nothing to prevent the Texas TapOut Rate from climbing. Compassion was shown for those humans caught up in the recent faked drug results fiasco and opens the door for growth and inclusion now vs. later.

*Action - Convince / implore / recommend the TBP&P to stop using the exception clause “Requirement” (or explain why it's utilized) that prevents the: non-DNA, non-Death Row, Closed / Inactive cases’ of false arrests' & subsequent wrongful convictions' claims' from being considered for Applicants' seeking a Full Pardon - for / based on innocence.

Reason(s) – Common sense shows that ‘it’ (Wrongful Post Conviction issues) should not be left up to the "original three trial officials: (Judge, D.A. & Sheriff) to unanimously agree in writing that the Applicant deserves a Full Pardon", especially one “based on innocence”. With absolutely no incentives’ to reply, or vet case(s) they or their predecessor(s) are shown knowingly & willingly playing an active role in, one can see that the clause is just another brick in the wall placed to prevent applying in the first place. Applicants’ having DNA evidence should Not trump those having an: Incident Report, color booking photo & certified case files showing 100% innocence. If this doesn’t register, changing the name to the Texas Board of Paroles would suffice.

*Action - Convince / implore / recommend the Timothy Cole Advisory Panel on Wrongful Convictions to open their endeavors to include suggestion(s) that include the: non-DNA, non-Death Row, Closed / Inactive cases' of false arrests' & subsequent wrongful convictions' claims' (including the art of stopping jury trials in order to engage in deceptive Plea Bargaining with probationers abuse).

Reason(s) - As it is now, there is Not one single: entity / human / group / project / professor / Senator / Rep. / Governor / / blogger / preacher / pastor / bishop / talking-head / exonoree or panel in Texas that: *speaks up for,*on behalf of, or *in the direction of the - historically & systematically ignored claims' involving stopping jury trials in order to engage in deceptive Plea Bargaining abuse with probationers. ZIPOLA, NADDADAMNONE. Those saying or pretending to, have exception clauses basically discriminating against the majority, thus, the term – “Cherry Picking for Innocence” stands. If they refuse to address the friggin big-ass elephant in the courts, changing their name to the Timothy Cole Advisory Panel on Certain Wrongful Convictions would suffice.

(Okay, full disclosure BS, Mrs. Audrey White (blogger & VOTS) has done more than anyone I can think of.) I simply don't count, despite being in both the: 3% & 97%. Klub(s). It should go without saying; I for one wouldn’t be here advocating that advocator(s) consider any of this if it weren’t for the twisted Texas Railroad & the Cherry Picking for Innocence campaign & the lack of truth in advertising.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Griffith, I don't really get much of what you are trying to say, and this is no exception. You do, however, seem to pass judgment on others for not doing enough to right various wrongs. This of course makes me wonder if your money is where your mouth is. My experience is that those who speak so freely usually have mouths unencumbered by money.

If you want to do more than just complain about others, I bet Grits knows where you. Can get your hands on a few thousand writs that need to be written. I'm sure he'd be happy to help you start doing. Some good things now, instead of waiting until a bill passes. Action or inaction, as you say. Pick which one you want to be known for.

Thomas R. Griffith said...

Some Punk said from the shadows - "I don't really get much of what you are trying to say" then trailed off about some shit about Grits, writs and money.

By reading your comment in full it seems that you and I need to meet and discuss any problems you may have? Name it, I'm open. Until then, I'm, known as Thomas R. Griffith and you are known as a Punk. BTW, your grammer & spelling gave you away.

Read the fucking comment again dip-shit and I'll see you over at Murray's. And No. I still don't want to go fly any friggin kites with you.

Anonymous said...

Man, someone just went off their meds in a big way.

Anonymous said...

4:00 AM, Have you read your comment yet? It's a doosey.

We read Mr. G's Comments during the daytime and had no problems reading or understanding the issues and clear proposal he's made to all fellow advocates. He's known for being himself and a criminal justice system reformer that shines spotlights on the ignored issues.

It looks like you know him better than you want us to believe or you wouldn't have went there at 4 AM.

Thomas R. Griffith said...

Hey 12:37 PM, ladies you know lawyers don't like it when you use your lunch hour commenting, but thanks for taking time to do so and for the bio. Now get back to work, the firm can't run itself. Sorry you all had to read the bad words but as you all know by now, that's how one should respond to shadows asking you to catch the square.

FWIW, 4AM & I go way back to 1984.

This is what he said in 2009 -
"In my 'experience' as a career prosecutor, there are three kinds of cases with many 'exceptions', that go to trial: the very serious, the very solid, and the very close. The other 95% are pled. I’ve often ‘wondered’ what would happen if the defense community balked and refused to bargain.” Emphasis added to the words he uses everywhere he trolls.

Anonymous said...

It looks like you know him better than you want us to believe or you wouldn't have went there at 4 AM.

Just an observation here:

When complaining about the way one person writes, be sure to accurately portray things in your own post.

In other words, that post was written at 8:04 am, not 4:00 am.

Personally, I find Griffith's posts to be rambling and a waste of space. But people think that about mine, so whatever.

(Waiting to be challenged to a fist fight.)


Thomas R. Griffith said...

Thanks Rage for catching the time line goof. I've never thought you rambled and honestly respect you for standing up against the machine. Put down your dukes this isn't about you and I. Thanks.