Ellis Introduces "Innocence Protection Package" for 2011 Legislative Session
(Austin, TX)—Today Sen. Rodney Ellis introduced an ambitious package of criminal justice reform bills to prevent wrongful convictions. The Houston Senator's "Innocence Protection Package" incorporates many of the recommendations from the Tim Cole Advisory Panel on Wrongful Convictions, a bi-partisan group with major criminal justice stakeholders that was established last session to investigate the causes of, and ways to prevent, wrongful convictions. The Innocence Protection Package includes legislation to: increase the accuracy and reliability of eyewitness identification procedures (SB 121); require electronic recording of custodial interrogations for serious felonies (SB 123); improve the state's post-conviction DNA testing statute (SB 122); and update the Fair Defense Act to improve criminal defense representation for indigent defendants (SB 170).
"I have high hopes that 2011 will finally be the year that the Texas Legislature says 'enough is enough' when it comes to putting innocent people in prison," 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 progressives can 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."
In recent months, numerous Texans have been released from prison or jail after it was determined they were wrongfully convicted. On October 27, Anthony Graves was released from jail after being incarcerated for 18 years, twelve of them on death row. In July, two men from Harris County were freed after it was determined they were wrongly incarcerated. Michael Anthony Green was released after being locked up 27 years for a rape he didn't commit. New DNA tests proved his innocence. Allen Wayne Porter was set free after spending 19 years in prison for a rape and robbery in which he was not involved.
The Innocence Protection Package seeks to address the most common cause of wrongful convictions — mistaken eyewitness identification — by requiring all law enforcement agencies to have written eyewitness identification procedures designed to increase accuracy and reduce wrongful convictions. Over 85 percent of Texas' 43 DNA exonerations were due to a mistaken eyewitness, yet only 12 percent of law enforcement agencies in Texas have written eyewitness identification procedures.
Another cause of wrongful convictions is false confessions. The Tim Cole Advisory Panel on Wrongful Convictions recommended that suspects in serious felonies like murder, kidnapping, and sexual assault should have their full interrogation recorded.
"My hope is that the recommendations of the Tim Cole Advisory Panel on Wrongful Convictions, combined with these recent exonerations, 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.