Ellis’ innocence bills

As he has done for the past several sessions, State Sen. Rodney Ellis has introduced numerous bills that will address issues of wrongful convictions and criminal justice procedures designed to help prevent them from happening.

Ellis is proposing an “Innocence Protection Package,” four bills aimed at decreasing the number of wrongful convictions in Texas. Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, is the package’s sponsor in the House.

“I tried to pick things that I thought were very much in the mainstream of criminal justice reforms that shouldn’t cost money, that will save money,” Ellis said. “They’ve been well-vetted and (have) broad-based support.”

State lawmakers in 2009 created a panel to examine the issue of wrongful convictions and propose reforms. After a year-long investigation, the 11-member panel of legislators, judges and legal groups last August recommended changes for the 82nd Legislature.

Ellis’ bills include many of the panel’s suggestions, including uniform procedures for eyewitness identification, requiring investigators to record interrogations in serious felonies, streamlining defendants’ appeals for DNA testing, and reorganizing Texas’ indigent defense task force.


Rep. Jerry Madden, R-Plano, who served on the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee last session, said he could not see a GOP effort to block Ellis’ bills if they are in line with recommendations from the Texas Criminal Justice Integrity Unit, which Judge Barbara Hervey, of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, launched in 2008.

That’s good to hear, and I hope the calendar will allow for Ellis’ bills to be heard, since we know that will be the main enemy of any non-budget, non-redistricting, non-“emergency” legislation. Perhaps because there’s no clear partisan dispute on this, the story author decided to give a few paragraphs to some guy who ranted about “technicalities” and the death penalty why we should make it easier to get convictions. I have no idea where such a mindset comes from or why it deserves an airing in a mainstream publication, but by any estimate there are a lot of wrongly convicted people in Texas prisons, which is not only a grievous wrong to them but also represents a lot of other people who have committed crimes and gotten away with it. I’ve never understood why those who complain about the rights of people accused of crimes don’t make that connection. Be that as it may, Grits provides answers to the questions that were asked in the story. One hopes that next time, the reporter will do that as well.

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