Paving the Way for Innocence
Bills attempt to right criminal justice wrongs
Last week the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee unanimously voted to move out of committee Alpine Dem Pete Gallego's House Bill 215, which would require police agencies to adopt model procedures for handling live and photo lineups of suspects. The bill, which failed to pass last session (another victim of chubbing), is part of a package of innocence-related bills introduced by Gallego and Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston. To date, the state has seen 41 DNA exonerations; nationwide, according to the Innocence Project, there have been 266. Most of those wrongfully convicted and then exonerated – roughly 75%, reports the IP – were convicted largely, if not exclusively, because of a faulty eyewitness identification. The bill seeks to remedy that situation, and moved quickly out of committee and to the full House for consideration. The Senate Criminal Justice Committee on Tuesday unanimously passed Ellis' Senate Bill 121 to the full body for consideration. Another a part of the so-called "innocence package" of bills is HB 220, also by Gallego, which would create a uniform way back into court for those convicted based on faulty or outdated science – potentially including cases like that of Austin's Fran and Dan Keller, convicted in 1992 of abusing a girl at their home-based day care. A doctor who testified in the case – saying that he saw signs of abuse – now says that he believes advancements in science have proven he was wrong (see "Believing the Children," March 27, 2009). That bill was heard but remains in committee along with HB 219, which would require police to make video recordings of custodial interrogations.