Saturday, May 25, 2013

Lege slowly but surely plowing through Tim Cole Advisory Panel recommendations

One has to give the Texas Legislature credit where it's due.

The Timothy Cole Advisory Panel on Wrongful Convictions was a one-time task force charged with making recommendations to reduce false convictions in the wake of the posthumous exoneration of Tim Cole as well as dozens of other Texas men declared innocent of serious felonies after post-conviction DNA testing. See their report (pdf). One often hears that panel made eleven recommendations, but really it was fewer than that. For example, five of them related to eyewitness identification standards, all of which were addressed in just one bill. Consolidated, the group effectively proposed six different legislative solutions:
Remarkably, with the passage of discovery reform and Sen. Whitmire's legislation allowing habeas relief in junk-science cases, after this session, to its credit, the Texas Legislature will have approved five of the six major recommendations of the Tim Cole Advisory Panel. Some may have been in more watered down forms than Grits might have preferred but still, that's not a bad record.

Assuming Governor Perry approves these latest bills - and he's been supportive of past legislation based on Tim Cole Advisory Panel recommendations - the final major unresolved item from the list for next session will be requiring police to record interrogations in the most serious offenses. This year a bill to that effect was voted out of the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee but, like a great deal of criminal-justice reform legislation, never received a vote on the House floor. The police chiefs' association says smaller departments can't afford it and until now my response has been that if they can't afford a recording device the department isn't big enough to handle rape and murder investigations. But that argument hasn't moved the needle so next session I've got my eye on a pot of untapped money that could perhaps be used for one-time recording equipment purchases, in much the same way the state used bond money to pay for dashcams in local police cars back in 2001. Recording equipment is cheap these days, it wouldn't take much.

Still, considering the Legislature created the Tim Cole Advisory Panel in 2009 (the same year it increased compensation for exonerees to become the most generous in the nation) and this is only the second session since its recommendations came out, five out of six isn't a bad ratio. There's more to be done, no doubt, and these measures represent modest first steps toward reform, not its culmination. But to outline half a dozen significant legislative suggestions and see five of them enacted in just two sessions is pretty darn impressive.


Anonymous said...

Maybe that's why Huffman and the prosecutors don't want an innocence commission: Its recommendations might be followed.

Anonymous said...

@7:03, Or maybe it's because the Cole Advisory Panel also recommended against an innocence commission.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Well, the version of an "innocence commission" the Tim Cole Panel rejected was one that would itself investigate innocence claims like in North Carolina. They concluded the clinics would be more likely to free innocent people, but they weren't talking about the sort of limited study commission that the Texas Senate rejected this year. All it would have done is make additional reform recommendations.

Twitch said...

If any state needs a vibrant and self-sufficient Innocence Project[s]
scene and funding connected with every major School of Law in the state, it's Texas; we saw the laughable Dallas and Harris County examples for starters regards to over-the-top false convictions and forensic malfeasance. In my opinion, if criminal law is to work there has to be adequate state oversight by a commission.
Recommendations are just killing time while people still are rotting for 20+ years.


Anonymous said...

Grits, why did the bill of all bills not receive a vote on the House floor?

FWIW, we put it at the top of the list due to learning it the hard way, that wrongful convictions begin in the interview / interrogation rooms when everyone is forced to take the arresting police officer's and detective's word as the gospel truth. Not all cops lie but those that do have been awarded a license to continue to arrest at will and let the plea bargaining games continue.

Anonymous said...

For the police chiefs of certain depts. to say that they can't afford cameras (and one had the nerve to say some don't even have computers a while back) is not only embarrassing, it's just a flat out lie. Post 911 has been the decade of Grants earmarked for police to play Army.

This lame excuse reads like a toothless dancer explaining why she has cable TV but can't afford a deadbolt lock & peephole. Some folks will believe anything (but for video).

Anonymous said...

Since it’s been declared that small police departments are broke (and the taxpayers are unaware or just don’t care) Texas could save money by removing all cameras: dash cams, court cams, booking cams, traffic cams, red-light cams, ATM cams. Therefore, utilizing the proceeds (otherwise spent on preserving images, sound and the actions of all involved proving or disproving police misconduct as well as any & all statements regarding so-called confessions) to up the $80K per year plus, plus paid out to a select few of the ‘wronged’ to - $1mil per year.

At some point, the camel’s back will break (even at $80K) and the House will be forced to vote on issues affecting the taxpayers tired of being faced with funding others’ acts’ of misconduct / crimes committed while seeking arrests and convictions at all cost.