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March 16, 2011 (512) 463-0300

SENATE PASSES EYEWITNESS ID REFORM

(AUSTIN) — Police departments statewide would have to adopt written policies on eyewitness identification procedures in an effort to reduce the number of false convictions in Texas, under a bill approved by the Senate on Wednesday. According to the national Innocence Project, three-fourths of all exonerations involved the accused being convicted on faulty eyewitness testimony. Bill author Senator Rodney Ellis of Houston said it's is a simple way to increase the reliability of eyewitness identification in criminal investigation. "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."

Under SB 121, the Bill Blackwood Law Enforcement Management Institute of Texas would create a model eyewitness ID policy, based on best practices and scientific studies, and distribute this policy to all law enforcement agencies in Texas. This would serve as the base for individual agency policy. Policies must state how they choose line up "filler", the non-suspects presented beside a suspect for identification. They must define what instructions are given to a witness before the line-up, and stipulate that the lineup administrator be unaware, if possible, of which lineup member is the actual suspect. Additionally, policies must include documentation of all lineup procedures as well as provide means to help illiterate or limited-proficiency English speakers with the procedure. The bill now heads to the House for consideration.

Senator Jeff Wentworth of San Antonio
Sen. Jeff Wentworth of San Antonio confers with a staffer during a committee meeting. Wentworth sponsored a bill considered Wednesday by the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee that would make it illegal to talk on a cell phone while driving.

In committee action Wednesday, the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee looked at two bills that would restrict the use of cell phones while driving. Numerous studies have shown that texting or talking on a phone while driving greatly increase the danger of a car accident, and many states are considering legislation to ban cell phone use while driving. Texas already bans talking on a cell phone while driving through a school zone, but the bills before committee Wednesday would apply that ban to all roads. SB 138, by San Antonio Senator Jeff Wentworth, would make it illegal to talk on a cell phone while driving. Drivers could use a hands free device, but those who chose to talk and drive without such a device would face a $100 to $200 fine. The second bill, SB 119 by Senator Carlos Uresti, also of San Antonio, only applies to text messaging while driving. Both bills remain pending before the committee.

The Senate will reconvene Thursday, March 17, at 8:30 a.m. to consider the Local and Uncontested Calendar, and will meet in general session Thursday at 10 a.m.


Session video and all other webcast recordings can be accessed from the Senate website's Audio/Video Archive.

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