House Passes Ellis DNA Reform Bill
SB 1292 ensures all DNA evidence is collected and tested prior to trial in any capital case
(Austin, Texas) — The Texas House today preliminarily passed reform legislation by Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) and Sylvester Turner (D-Houston) to reduce wrongful convictions and increasing confidence in Texas' criminal justice system. The legislation now goes to the House for consideration. The legislation will be voted upon again on Wednesday and then sent to Governor Perry for signature.
The House passed SB 1292, which will ensure all relevant DNA evidence in death penalty cases is collected and tested prior to a trial. The legislation is a collaborative effort between Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott and Senator Ellis to create a more fair, reliable and just Texas criminal justice system.
"This modest but vitally important reform will help reduce the possibility that the ultimate mistake is made with someone receiving the ultimate penalty," said Ellis. "The fact of the matter is that we have already dodged just such a bullet thanks to advocates for the wrongfully convicted."
"I am extremely pleased that the House of Representatives has unanimously approved SB 1292 authored by Senator Ellis which is vital in preventing wrongful convictions and ensuring public safety," said Representative Turner. "I applaud Senator Ellis and the Attorney General who have meticulously crafted legislation that will provide a fair process for pre-trial testing in death penalty cases."
Senate Bill 1292 requires the state to test, prior to trial, all DNA biological evidence that can reasonably be used to either establish the identity of the person who may have committed the crime or exclude someone as having committed the crime. It applies in any capital offense where the state is seeking the death penalty and clarifies that the State or an accredited lab shall pay for all the DNA testing performed in accordance with the bill.
DNA testing has been key to the release of hundreds of those wrongfully convicted in Texas and across the country. For instance, Anthony Graves spent 16 years on death row for a murder he did not commit. Overall there have been 303 post-conviction DNA exonerations across the nation. Of those, 18 served time on death row. Another 16 were charged with capital crimes but were spared a death sentence.
"We know that, sometimes, we get the wrong person," said Ellis. "The Michael Morton case and dozens of examples are painful reminders of that fact. SB 1292 will ensure we avoid both the possibility of the wrong person serving years on Death Row and the far worse specter of putting to death an innocent person."