Senator Ellis Press Release

For Immediate Release
May 18, 2011
Contact: Jeremy Warren, 512-463-0113

Eyewitness Identification Reform Passes Senate

HB 215 enacts Cole Advisory Panel recommendation, improves justice in Texas

(Austin, Texas)—The Senate today unanimously approved HB 215, legislation by Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) and Representative Pete Gallego (D-Alpine) which will enact a pivotal eyewitness identification reform recommended by the Tim Cole Advisory Panel. Identical legislation, SB 121, unanimously passed the Senate in March and in 2009.

HB 215 requires all Texas law enforcement agencies in the state to adopt written eyewitness identification policies based on proven best practices by September 1, 2012. The current bill was negotiated or endorsed by DA's, defense lawyers, the police, members of the Texas judiciary (Justice Keller, Justice Jefferson, Justice Hervey), and the Governor's office.

"Eyewitness identification reform is the result of two years of cooperation with prosecutors, defense attorneys, law enforcement, members of the judiciary and the Governor's office," said Ellis. "It enacts a simple best practice to ensure we have reliable evidence in our courtrooms to ensure the conviction of the guilty and the protection of the innocent. This bill honors the memory of Tim Cole and all of his family, and I am extremely pleased that the Texas Senate today took this important step toward improving justice in Texas."

According to the national Innocence Project, approximately 75% of the 266 DNA exonerations in the United States have been due to eyewitness misidentification. In Texas, 38 of its 44 DNA wrongful convictions (86%) were largely or exclusively due to incorrect eyewitness identifications. Despite the fact that certain "best practices" have been shown to improve the accuracy and reliability of eyewitness evidence, the Justice Project found in November 2008 that only 12% of police departments in Texas even have written policies or guidelines for conducting lineups.

Sen. Ellis has introduced eyewitness ID reform legislation every session since 2005. Last session, SB 117 passed the Senate unanimously, passed House Jurisprudence 8-2 but died on House Calendars. Under SB 121, the Bill Blackwood Law Enforcement Management Institute of Texas (LEMIT) will develop a model policy and associated training materials in conjunction with law enforcement and scientific experts in eyewitness memory research. All law enforcement agencies must adopt a policy that conforms with the LEMIT model policies.

"Eyewitness reform is a very simple, straightforward change to help create a smarter, more just system," Ellis said. "It will put in place best practices that will help reduce the number of incorrect identifications that are one of the chief causes of wrongful convictions in Texas."