The Texas House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee has voted in favor of a bill to create an Innocence Commission. It is HB 115 by Ruth McClendon and Pete Gallego. The vote was 7 for, 1 against, and 1 absent. It now goes to the Calendars Committee, which will vote on whether it gets scheduled for a floor vote.
This was one of the issues we advocated for on the “Day of Innocence” and Statewide Lobby Day Against the Death Penalty on March 16.
BACKGROUND AND PURPOSE
A failure occurs in the criminal justice system when a person convicted of a crime is determined through post-conviction DNA testing or the discovery of new evidence to have been innocent of the crime. The number of exonerations in Texas has increased since a previous legislature enacted legislation authorizing a convicted person to request a motion for DNA testing in the person’s case. Currently, the Texas criminal justice system does not have the institutional means to adequately evaluate wrongful convictions or the factors contributing to those convictions. Wrongful convictions have been attributed to false eyewitness identifications, unreliable or limited science, false confessions, forensic science misconduct, government misconduct, unreliable informants, and ineffective legal representation for defendants. A wrongful conviction can lead to the loss of an innocent person’s family, employment, and parental rights and can also affect the families and friends of the innocent individual.
C.S.H.B. 115 creates the Texas Innocence Commission to thoroughly investigate all post-conviction exonerations to ascertain errors and defects in the criminal procedures used to prosecute the defendant’s case at issue, identify errors and defects in the criminal justice process in Texas generally, develop solutions and methods to correct the identified errors and defects, and identify procedures and programs to prevent future wrongful convictions. The establishment of this commission will cast light on the causes of wrongful convictions, promote the adoption of positive reforms to enhance the accuracy of criminal investigations, strengthen the reliability of criminal prosecutions, protect the innocent, and enhance public safety.