Senator Ellis calls for reforms to protect the innocent
Points to recent exoneration of Larry Fuller to make the case
AUSTIN -- Senator Rodney Ellis said the recent exoneration of Larry Fuller of Dallas clearly underscores the need for Texas legislators to improve the state’s criminal justice system.
“If our state continues to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to build more prisons, then I believe we should at the very least create some improved criminal justice policies that lock up the right people and not let the real bad guys run free on the street,” Ellis said.
Standing next to Senator Ellis was 57 year-old Larry Fuller. Mr. Fuller is a decorated Dallas Vietnam veteran who was convicted 25 years ago of aggravated rape and exonerated Tuesday after Dallas County prosecutors allowed for specialized DNA testing proving his innocence.
According to the Innocence Project, a non-profit legal clinic and criminal justice legal resource center in New York, over 183 people nationwide have been cleared through DNA testing after they were convicted. In Texas at least 20 men have been exonerated by DNA testing. Ten of those cases have come out of Dallas County in the past five years.
“We need a system in place that sets in motion an in-depth investigation when an innocent person is wrongfully convicted to ensure that this injustice is not repeated and the guilty are sent to jail,” Ellis said.
Senator Ellis, who serves on the Texas Senate Criminal Justice Committee and chairs the Innocence Project, and other criminal justice advocates outlined the need for legislative reforms related to compensation for wrongfully convicted, the formation of state innocence commission and eyewitness identification reform.
- Increased compensation for wrongfully convicted -- Currently, the Texas law allows for compensation for wrongful imprisonment of $25,000/year with a cap of $500,000/ year. Texas needs to bring the amount of compensation up to par with the Federal Justice for All Act of 2004 for innocent Texans who have been wrongfully convicted. The victims of wrongful incarceration would be eligible for $50,000/year of incarceration and $100,000/year served on death row, with no cap.
- Formation of a state innocence commission -- There is a need for a Texas Innocence Commission to examine cases of innocent Texans who have been wrongfully convicted, identify the causes of those convictions, and recommend changes in the criminal justice system to prevent such tragedies from occurring in the future.
- Eyewitness identification reforms -- According to the Innocence Project in most of the DNA exonerations cases in Texas, and around the country, testimony from mistaken eyewitness identification led to the wrongful conviction. It's time we look at some of the research on this topic and the reforms in eyewitness identification procedures being implemented around the country to see if Texas needs to make some changes.