New criminal justice reforms that lawmakers passed will undoubtedly save the lives of people who have been wrongly imprisoned. Perhaps the most important was House Bill 215, which reforms police lineup procedures. Witness misidentification was a factor in 75 percent of wrongful convictions, according to the New York-based Innocence Project. HB 215, by Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, and Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, requires law enforcement agencies to adopt written lineup procedures.
Lawmakers also approved SB 122, authored by Ellis. The bill will make it easier for prisoners to access DNA testing. It could help wrongly convicted prisoners prove their innocence and speed their releases. Under current law, prisoners who claim they’re innocent can request post-conviction DNA testing, but the testing is sometimes not granted. In several recent cases, possibly innocent men had trouble accessing DNA evidence that was available at trail, but wasn’t tested. (In some instances, incompetent defense attorneys ignored DNA evidence at trial.)
Ellis’ bill would require post-conviction DNA testing if the evidence was either never examined or if newer testing techniques had emerged since the original trial. “[The bill] will ensure that if there is DNA evidence available to prove someone’s innocence, it can and will be tested,” Ellis said. “No longer will the door to justice be shut just because of a procedural error.”
Meanwhile, a third Ellis bill aids exonerees who have been released by still suffer the after-affects of their time in prison. The legislation expands exoneree access to state compensation and allows exonerees to receive health insurance from the state Department for Criminal Justice.
Title: Aiding the Wrongly Convicted
Author: Dave Mann
Published in: The Texas Observer, June 17th, 2011
Student Researcher – Corey Savio, Sonoma State University
Faculty Evaluator – Suzel A. Bozada-Deas, Sonoma State University