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Two for Timothy Cole

On Friday, the House concurred with Senate amendments to HB1736, the Timothy Cole Act that increases compensation to those that have been wrongly convicted. I had said on Monday that it had passed both chambers at that time, but I didn’t realize the Senate had added two amendments that needed House approval. That’s now been done, so unless I’m missing something else, it should now be on its way to Governor Perry’s desk.

Also on Friday, HB498, which creates an Innocence Commission to investigate false convictions and identify reforms to prevent their recurrence, passed the House on third reading. It’s now in the Senate’s hands for final approval. Grits testified in support of this bill on behalf of the Innocence Project of Texas back in March. The commission would be known as the Timothy Cole Innocence Commission, according to a press release I received from Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon, the bill’s author. I’ve reproduced the release beneath the fold. All told, I’d say this has been a pretty decent session for criminal justice reform. There’s never enough that gets done, but I get the impression more has been done so far this time than in recent memory. Grits mentions a couple of other worthwhile bills that have made it this far as well.

House Bill 498, filed by State Representative Ruth Jones McClendon (D- San Antonio, House District 120), would create a commission to investigate and prevent wrongful convictions. The House of Representatives approved it on third and final reading today.

Representative McClendon stated, “As lawmakers, we have a responsibility to change Texas law to prevent this outrageous miscarriage of justice, which results in the irreparable loss of the person’s family, job, parental rights, not to mention the effect it has on families and friends of the innocent”.

This session, the Texas Legislature has noted the high number of wrongly convicted persons in Texas and has decided to address it through positive legislation. It is evident that Timothy Cole’s story struck a cord with the Texas Legislature. Representative Anchia’s HB 1736 also creates the Timothy Cole Act, which would increase the compensation the State of Texas pays to those individuals found to have been wrongly imprisoned.

The commission would be named the Timothy Cole Innocence Commission in honor of Timothy Cole, an innocent Texan and an Army veteran, who served ten years of a 25-year sentence after being convicted of a sexual assault he did not commit. Unfortunately, Timothy Cole was not able to see the day he was found innocent and his name cleared, because he died in prison in 1999 at the of age 39, after being convicted due to a false eyewitness identification. Since Tim Cole was from Lubbock, Representative McClendon’s Bill carries forward his legacy by allowing the Texas Tech University System to assist the Commission in performing its duties; also, two of the nine members of the Commission will be appointed by the chancellor of the Texas Tech University System.

HB 498 would establish this commission in order to investigate and prevent wrongful convictions by evaluating an array of factors that can lead to those results. These evidentiary errors can include false eyewitness identifications, unreliable/limited science, false confessions, forensic science misconduct, government misconduct, unreliable informants, and ineffective representation in court. The goal would be to find ways to prevent these errors, which contribute to an irreparable harm that may last for years. According to the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition Policy Guide of 2009, the cost of incarcerating an individual in prison is approximately $43 per day or about $15,695 per year. As compared with the cost of a DNA test at $4,000-5,000 and the cost to the person wrongfully convicted, and their family, the prevention of a wrongful conviction represents a financially sound decision in regard to criminal prosecutions. Ultimately, the objective is to eliminate the number of innocent men and women incarcerated in Texas’ already overpopulated prisons.

HB 498 is expected to be referred to the Senate Committee on Criminal Justice. Senator Ellis will be the Senate Sponsor and help shepherd HB 498 through the Senate.

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