The Texas Legislature has had its plate full this session with budgetary issues. But a stack of criminal justice bills has also piled up, many of which offer promising reform and some of which may even be passed.
According to the Dallas Morning News, several now-exonerated men have been urging lawmakers to take action this session, by passing bills that would make it more difficult for the innocent to be wrongfully convicted. From changing the way police do lineups to making it easier for the exonerated to get on with their lives, the hope is that many if not all of these protections will soon be in place.
Currently, there are no mandatory standards for eyewitness identification in Texas. One department may do things completely differently than the next. And it’s anyone’s guess if they are doing them in a manner consistent with the pursuit of real justice. According to the Innocence Project, mistaken eyewitness identification has played a role in the majority of DNA exonerations, 38 of them in Texas.
More than any other jurisdiction, 22 of 45 Texas exonerations were in Dallas County. According to the Justice Project, as of 2008 only 12% of Texas police departments had written policies for lineups.
Here’s a quick rundown of some of the bills pending:
- Changes to eyewitness identification and lineup procedures
- Expansion of post-conviction DNA testing
- Assistance for the wrongfully convicted
- Recording police interrogations of some violent offenses
- Creation of a Texas Innocence Commission
- Changes to inmate access to habeas corpus (the route to exoneration through claims of innocence)
Some of these reforms have been labeled “not likely to pass” by lawmakers and the press alike. But even if a few of them pass, it would be a step in the right direction. Ensuring some action is taken to prevent the wrongful conviction of citizens is crucial in maintaining any sort of integrity of the justice system. For every safeguard voted down by the lawmakers, public confidence in their commitment to real justice wavers.
There’s an old saying that “everyone” in jail is innocent. And while many may make that claim, there are some who have in fact been wrongfully arrested and wrongfully convicted. Avoiding this in the initial stages of the justice process is far preferable than trying to overturn a conviction.
If you are accused of a crime, an experienced Texas defense attorney is there to help you clear your name. Even if you are guilty, your attorney can help you determine your options and work towards getting the best results possible on your day in court.
Remove the pressure to convict at any cost, and increase the demands to root out bad court employees.