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Texas bill could help reduce wrongful convictions

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As previous posts have indicated, a wrongful conviction is the worst nightmare of both the accused and the criminal justice system generally. In Texas, the judicial system is in place to ensure the proper evidence, statements and other documents are brought forth to the court to ensure a jury obtains a full and accurate depiction of the events. Yet, the state of criminal defense in Texas could be better. Every year, individuals are released after it is determined they were wrongfully convicted.

Many Texans are familiar with the now 58-year old man released due to the wrongful conviction of bludgeoning his wife to death decades prior. Crucial evidence was withheld by prosecutors, but it later came to light. Specifically, the man's three-year-old son, witness to the crime, had a conversation with his grandmother shortly after his mother's death where he told her his father was not in the room at the time of the murder.

Texas lawmakers are now setting out to prevent such future tragedies with a new discovery bill. The bill requires prosecutors to release to the defense attorney all information in their file, except for strategies in the case. The bill would require the same of the defense attorney. Almost all other states have such a requirement in place. The required release of the entire file expedites the discovery process and ensures no crucial evidence is left behind.

The wrongfully convicted man has been on record, fully supporting the bill. Further, such legislation was recommended in August 2010 by a Texas Advisory Panel on Wrongful Convictions. The Senate must first vote on the bill before it can move forward. Another lawmaker introduced similar legislation in 2011 and it did not pass. Hopefully, 2013 will be a better year for Senate Bill 1611.

Source: The Texas Tribune, "Ellis, Duncan File Compromise Criminal Discovery Bill," Brandi Grissom, March 8, 2013.

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