Sen. Ellis Introduces Broad "Innocence Protection Package" for 2009 Legislative Session
November 19, 2008 (AUSTIN) - Last week Sen. Rodney Ellis introduced an ambitious package of criminal justice reform bills to prevent wrongful convictions and make sure the state of Texas does not execute an innocent person. The Houston senator's "Innocence Protection Package" includes legislation to: increase the accuracy and reliability of eyewitness identification procedures; require video recording of custodial interrogations; ensure the reliability of informant testimony; and establish an Innocence Commission to investigate wrongful convictions. To prevent the execution of an innocent person, Ellis introduced legislation to give the governor the power to grant multiple reprieves in capital cases.
As part of his Innocence Protection Package, Sen. Ellis also plans on introducing legislation to enhance indigent defense services and improve compensation for exonerees and their families, including the families of persons posthumously exonerated.
"With a little luck, 2009 could be the Year of Innocence Protection," said Sen. Ellis. "Ensuring that evidence is reliable, the innocent are freed and the truly guilty are punished are things that Democrats and Republicans, conservatives and liberals should be able to agree on. Let's prove to the people of Texas and the world that restoring trust in the criminal justice system is one of the Lone Star State's top priorities."
The problem of wrongful convictions has received a flurry of major media coverage in Texas in recent months. The November 2008 edition of Texas Monthly profiles the 37 men who have been exonerated in Texas thanks to DNA evidence. In October, the Dallas Morning News ran a three-part series on the causes of the 19 DNA exonerations out of Dallas County. Throughout this year, the Houston Chronicle has continued its excellent coverage of the ongoing challenges at the Houston Police Department crime lab.
Not only has the phenomenon of wrongful convictions been the focus of the major Texas media, but it has also caught the attention of the Court of Criminal Appeals. CCA Judge Barbara Hervey took the lead in forming the Texas Criminal Justice Integrity Unit in June to examine wrongful convictions and make recommendations for reform. Sen. Ellis is one of its members.
"My hope is that the media spotlight combined with the recommendations from the Texas Criminal Justice Integrity Unit will result in a renewed focus by the legislature and governor on ensuring accuracy, fairness, and due process in our criminal justice system," said Ellis. "If we can address the causes of wrongful convictions next year, we can make sure that an Innocence Commission is not needed in the future."