Statement of Sen. Rodney Ellis on the First Meeting of the Tim Cole Advisory Panel on Wrongful Convictions
"I would like to extend my gratitude to all of the elected officials and experts who have agreed to serve on the Tim Cole Advisory Panel on Wrongful Convictions and who attended today's first meeting. It is apparent that the members are taking their jobs seriously and want to do all they can to improve Texas' criminal justice system.
The Tim Cole Advisory Panel to the Texas Task Force on Indigent Defense was established this past legislative session with the passage of HB 498 (McClendon/Ellis).
Tim Cole was wrongly convicted in 1986 and died in prison in 1999 before being posthumously exonerated earlier this year. Rep. McClendon and I thought it only appropriate that this advisory panel be named in his honor. Hopefully the advisory panel's efforts will help prevent another tragedy like Tim Cole’s from happening in Texas ever again.
In the past few years, other state entities have examined some aspects of the wrongful conviction problem in Texas. In 2005, Gov. Rick Perry issued an executive order establishing the Criminal Justice Advisory Council to study and make recommendations for improving the criminal justice system. In 2008, Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Barbara Hervey established the Criminal Justice Integrity Unit to examine the causes of wrongful convictions.
Despite these fine efforts by Judge Hervey and the Governor, Texas still has a long way to go to ensure that the innocent remain free and the guilty are brought to justice. Consider that:
- Texas has had 41 DNA exonerations, more than any other state in the country.
- Mistaken eyewitness identifications account for 85 percent of wrongful convictions in Texas, yet the state has no statewide eyewitness identification standards. Only 12 percent of law enforcement agencies in the state have written eyewitness identification procedures.
- False confessions are the second highest cause of wrongful convictions in Texas and the rest of the United States. While sixteen states and the District of Columbia require the electronic recording of entire interrogations, Texas does not.
- Texas spent only $6.14 per capita on indigent defense during 2005 — last among the ten most populous states in the nation; 44th overall.
- The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) recently released its comprehensive review of forensics, Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward. While NAS identified many shortcomings in the forensic sciences, many stakeholders in the criminal justice system may not know about these problems, and legal remedies for defendants convicted using flawed forensic science may be lacking.
While these problems still exist, they are not insurmountable. I believe the Tim Cole Advisory Panel could be the important final step to getting the necessary legislation passed to solve these problems.
I look forward to the release of the advisory panel's final report on the causes of, and ways to prevent, wrongful convictions. I'm sure the people of Texas — and the rest of the country — do as well."
Duties of the Tim Cole Advisory Panel on Wrongful Convictions
The Task Force on Indigent Defense, with the advice and assistance of the advisory panel, shall conduct a study regarding:
(1) the causes of wrongful convictions;
(2) procedures and programs that may be implemented to prevent future wrongful convictions;
(3) the effects of state law on wrongful convictions, as determined based on state statutes regarding eyewitness identification procedures, the recording of custodial interrogations, postconviction DNA testing, and writs of habeas corpus based on relevant scientific evidence; and
(4) whether the creation of an innocence commission to investigate wrongful convictions would be appropriate.