Ellis, Scheck Urge Action on Vital Criminal Justice Reforms
Ellis reform package will create independent Innocence Commission, increase compensation to those wrongfully imprisoned, enhance eyewitness identification procedures
AUSTIN - Pointing to the recent exonerations of James Giles and James Waller and Larry Fuller in Dallas, Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston), Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck and four wrongfully convicted Texans today urged action on vital criminal justice reform legislation.
Senator Ellis, who serves on the Texas Senate Criminal Justice Committee and chairs the Innocence Project, filed SB 262 to boost compensation for those wrongfully convicted, and SB 263 to create an independent commission to examine cases where innocent citizens who have been wrongfully convicted, identify the causes of those convictions, and recommend changes in the criminal justice system to prevent such future miscarriages of justice. Ellis filed similar legislation in 2005.
The group also urged passage of SB 799, which would enhance eyewitness identification procedures. Faulty identifications are the leading cause of wrongful convictions.
"We are here as a call to action," said Ellis. "Texas needs to clean house, and it needs to do it now. The advent of DNA has helped right wrongs -- often far too late -- but we as a state need to do much more to find out the causes of these miscarriages of justice, implement changes to prevent them, and provide more compensation for those who have been wronged."
According to the Innocence Project, a non-profit legal clinic and criminal justice legal resource center in New York, 198 people nationwide have been cleared through DNA testing after they were convicted. In Texas 29 men have been exonerated by DNA testing. Thirteen of those cases have come out of Dallas County in the past five years.
In boosting compensation for the wrongfully convicted, Senator Ellis urged Texas to adopt the new federal standard. Currently, the Texas law allows for compensation for wrongful imprisonment of $25,000/year with a cap of $500,000/ total. 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.
"We need to do more to help these Texans rebuild their shattered lives," said Ellis. "Money will obviously not make up for the past, but Texas can help these people move forward by boosting compensation for those who have been wrongfully imprisoned to the federal standard."