Sen. Rodney Ellis’ eyewitness ID bill passed out of committee unanimously, with an an inconsequential cleanup amendment from Sen. Joan Huffman, just as Chairman Pete Gallego’s companion bill passed out of House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee last week. Since that legislation two years ago died because of time as opposed to any vocal opposition (and no one testified against it in either committee this year), that bill appears to have a good chance of passage.
Exonerees who testified had spent between 13 and 30 years falsely imprisoned, and as always their testimony was powerful and moving. It’s quite an honor and a humbling experience to get to work with those guys. I find it unimaginable what’s been taken from them, not to mention the courage it takes to have endured such a trauma and then keep coming down to the Legislature to tell them “Change the system so this doesn’t happen to somebody else.” (Watch the video here; testimony on SB 121 (Ellis) begins at the 58:05 mark.)
Except it is happening somewhere in Texas, arguably, every day Texas courts are open for business. DNA testing has given us a narrow window into the causes of innocent people being convicted – mainly false eyewitness identification, mendacious snitches, false confessions, faulty forensics, and ineffective assistance by defense counsel – but those same types of flawed evidence are every day in a large number of cases that don’t have DNA available to clear the falsely accused of defendant. Eyewitness identification errors were involved in the vast majority of DNA exonerations (75% nationally, 80% in Texas), so this bill arguably is the most important piece of preventive policy legislation on the subject the Lege will consider this year.
Here’s SB121, and here’s some background on Sen. Ellis’ package of innocence-related bills. Though there’s still some resistance to these efforts from law enforcement, hopefully this will be the year this stuff makes it through.