Saturday, May 11, 2013

Open-file bill named for Michael Morton scheduled for Monday floor vote in TX House

The one-sided criminal discovery bill requiring open files of prosecutors - SB 1611 by Duncan/Ellis, the so-called "Michael Morton Act," carried in the House by Rep. Senfronia Thompson - has been set for a vote on the floor of the Texas House of Representatives on Monday. A couple of prosecutors opposed the bill in committee and some of the same folks have been grousing about it online. But that didn't stop the House Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence Committee from recommending it unanimously. For the most part, the DAs have reined in most of the usual critics and the Harris County DA's decision to support the bill went a long way toward dispelling allegations that it's soft on crime. Without question, this is the most significant criminal-justice legislation of the 83rd Texas Legislature.

Also up on Monday's House floor calendar: SB 825 by Whitmire eliminating secret "private" sanctions by the state bar for sustained grievances against prosecutors for Brady violations. This bill was also pitched as an homage to Michael Morton so one would expect the man of the season to be on hand for the festivities.

Grits had earlier recommended both these bills for speedy passage so I'm glad to see them prioritized.

MORE (May 12): See Brandi Grissom's preview of Monday's vote from the Texas Tribune, including a conversation with the attorney who argued Brady v. Maryland (he lost the case but SCOTUS created the rule) and Barry Scheck of the national Innocence Project.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think this bill is a small step in the right direction. However, while I hate to be critical, I do agree somewhat with Mr. Breen's comments on the TDCAA website. The problem with prosecutorial misconduct is that it often involves deliberate decisions to break the rules. So, while I'm glad the legislature did something, I don't think this bill will have a significant impact on the problem. The only way to significantly impact the problem of prosecutorial misconduct is to start holding more prosecutors accountable. The Court of Inquiry in Williamson County was a start. I think the most helpful thing would be to do away with absolute prosecutorial immunity. I think that is the only way we will really see this problem begin to be curtailed. But, again, I'm not knocking this bill, it is a small step in the right direction and at least some attention has been brought to the subject. Unfortunately, we know there are prosecutors out there who are willing to break the rules to obtain convictions at any cost (Smith County for example). More rules won't stop them.