Lawmakers consider how to stop wrongful convictions
By Jordan Smith,
10:02AM, Wed. Mar. 11, 2009
For the fourth time in as many sessions, legislation proposing the creation of an innocence commission is up for consideration. On March 9, a House subcommittee on criminal procedure heard House Bill 498, San Antonio Dem Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon’s bid to create the Timothy Cole Innocence Commission. Cole was wrongly convicted of a 1985 rape at Texas Tech University and died in prison before his name was cleared. He was finally exonerated last month during a special proceeding in the court of Travis Co. District Judge Charlie Baird. “As lawmakers, we have a responsibility to change Texas law to prevent this outrageous miscarriage of justice,” McClendon told the members of the criminal jurisprudence subcommittee.
Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, who has been proposing an innocence commission since 2003, has filed similar legislation again this session (SB 115) that is still awaiting hearing in the Senate’s Criminal Justice Committee. McClendon’s bill is the same as Ellis’ in intent – to create an entity to investigate wrongful convictions and identify procedures to prevent future miscarriages of justice – but also proposes giving the commission subpoena power and allowing the commission’s findings to be used in court proceedings as corroborating evidence.
McClendon’s bill was left pending in committee.