Press Release
From the Office of State Senator Rodney Ellis

For Immediate Release
April 21, 2005
Contact: Jeremy Warren, (512) 463-0113

Senate Criminal Justice Committee Passes Innocence Commission Legislation

Legislation will beef up Governor Perry's Criminal Justice Advisory Council

(Austin)// The Senate Criminal Justice Committee today passed legislation by Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) to strengthen Governor Rick Perry's proposed Criminal Justice Advisory Council. The Committee approved Senate Bill 1033 by vote of 5-1.

Ellis praised Gov. Perry for creating the council, but said the legislature needed to provide it with the tools necessary to "conduct a fair and just assessment of the Texas criminal justice system." SB 1033 will provide the Governor's council with the ability to look into the causes of wrongful convictions and recommend improvements to the Texas criminal justice system to prevent such tragedies from occurring in the future.

"Texans deserve a criminal justice system they can trust protects the innocent and punishes only the guilty," said Ellis. "The Governor has taken an important first step toward making that system of justice a reality; this bill provides him with the tools to take the next step."

To date, 15 Texans have been exonerated as a result of DNA testing that proved their innocence. On Tuesday, Barry Scheck, renowned attorney and head of the New York-based Innocence Project, testified at the hearing that Texas needs to do much more to improve our criminal justice system. He highlighted two cases where faulty evidence may have led to wrongful executions in Texas.

"Without subpoena power and the ability to order testing, I don't see how the committee can get to the bottom of these cases," Scheck said after testifying. "I haven't heard of a committee that didn't want all of those things. If you want to find out the truth, you have to have the mechanisms to do it."