When you are facing criminal charges, the case against you likely contains details that are crucial to you building a successful defense. In other words, you can’t prepare for battle without knowing what the other side is armed with. Governor Rick Perry now has a chance to sign a bill that would make it easier for you to know the prosecutor’s hand—a bill that is crucial in preventing wrongful convictions and even prosecutor misconduct.
Michael Morton was tried and convicted for killing his wife in 1986. But he was innocent. It took decades for him to be freed from prison—thanks to the efforts of the Innocence Project—and he was formally acquitted in 2011. Part of the reason the innocent man found himself behind bars in the first place was because his attorneys didn’t know everything the prosecution knew.
Perry changed this and prevented it from happening again when he signed the Michael Morton act, which requires prosecutors to share all relevant evidence with the defense. But the bill now headed for his desk would go a step further.
Evidence is the bread and butter of a criminal case. And though the rules of evidence can be confusing, they should be well-known to any prosecutor representing the state. Still, some attorneys need a little guidance.
While the bill would require only one of three hours of ethics training to focus on the issue, it’s a requirement that wasn’t previously there.
Until now, it was up to separate district attorney’s offices to provide such training to their new prosecutors. This would ensure prosecutors statewide were getting the same important information on the topic.
If you are facing drug charges but are unaware of an interview the police had with an acquaintance of yours—an interview that could provide proof of your innocence—you could be missing out on a route to acquittal. Likewise, if the prosecution has a mass of evidence against you, your attorneys could use knowledge of this evidence to build potentially successful counters to their approach. Without such access, your defense is in pure reactionary mode.
The laws of the courts were designed to protect the innocence. The burden of proof rests with the state, to prove you are guilty of the crime you are charged with. While sharing evidence may seem like a no-brainer in this regard, the law will ensure that no one is left with the excuse of not knowing any better.
While Texas is traditionally known as a tough law and order state, with a high rate of capital punishment, it is good to see them embracing some significant and overdue criminal justice reforms like these.