Senate Passes DNA Bill

Other criminal justice reforms stalled

Senate Passes DNA Bill

The Texas Senate today passed a measure to increase access to post-conviction DNA testing.

The bill, Senate Bill 122, by Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, was among the measures recommended by the Tim Cole Advisory Panel, convened after the last session to look at improvements to Texas' criminal justice system that might prevent future wrongful convictions like that of Tim Cole, who was convicted of a rape he did not commit and died in prison before he could clear his name.

Current law allows for post-conviction DNA testing but confines such testing to cases only where testing wasn't previously available; if the evidence was previously tested the statute would allow additional testing, but only in certain circumstances, like that the failure to test was "no fault of the convicted person" – a legal term of art that is directly implicated in the Hank Skinner death case that recently went to the Supreme Court. (More on that case can be found here.)

Ellis' measure would require post-conviction DNA testing if the evidence wasn't previously tested or if it was but newer testing techniques give rise to a likelihood that testing it again would provide results that are "more accurate and probative than the previous test results." Moreover, the bill would require courts to order any unidentified DNA profile to be compared to DNA databases maintained by the FBI and by the Department of Public Safety.

"Under current law, innocence is often being left to chance," Ellis said in a press release. "Strengthening Texas' post-conviction DNA law is an essential measure to improve justice in Texas."

This is the second of the Cole Panel's recommendations to get some traction at the Lege. A reco to improve police live and photo lineups has passed through both the House and Senate, but still lacks any real teeth (you can read here about that sad bill). But other recommendations, including one that would require police to record all custodial interrogations is still pending in committee; a bill based on a recommendation to reform Texas writ law to provide convicted inmates a way to appeal convictions based on outdated or junk science (think here of the Cameron Todd Willingham case or even the case of Fran and Dan Keller from here in Austin), also remains in committee.

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82nd Legislature, Courts, Tim Cole, Rodney Ellis, John Whitmire, Legislature, eyewitness identification, wrongful convictions, writ reform, Fran Keller, Cameron Todd Willingham, DNA testing, Hank Skinner, SB 121, SB 122, SB 123, SB 317

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