"Eyewitness ID legislation aims to prevent conviction of the innocent in Texas," is the Dallas Morning News report written by Erin Mulvaney.
A bill meant to streamline eyewitness identification procedures, approved Tuesday by a House committee, would bring the state a step closer to fixing a key problem with the criminal justice system, advocates said.
Under the legislation, police departments would have to adopt uniform standards for eyewitness identification.
The House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee approved the bill unanimously after hearing from criminal justice officials and emotional testimony from half a dozen exonerees from Dallas, who spent years in prison for crimes they did not commit. The measure will now go to the full House for consideration.
“This bill has special importance for Dallas County, has tremendous public interest and support,” said Rep. Will Hartnett, R-Dallas. “It deserves a head start to get it passed and out of the House.”
The exonerees made emotional appeals to lawmakers. James Giles, a Dallas man exonerated in 2007, told the lawmakers that he was picked out of a lineup and accused of rape, although he had never seen the victim before. He spent 10 years in prison and 14 years as a registered sex offender on parole.
“[The victim] picked me out of all the guys in the photo book she was given,” Giles said. “The system will work, but it takes one person to say what is right and, believe you me, everyone will follow.”
Policies for gathering eyewitness identification would have to be based on scientific research on memory, along with relevant policies and guidelines developed by the federal government and other states. Policies would have to address the selection of photographs, lineup filler photographs or participants and instruction given to witnesses. The Blackwood Law Enforcement Management Institute of Texas at Sam Houston State University would create a model policy to be distributed to local law enforcement agencies.
Texas has had 42 exonerations, 38 in cases that had been based on false eyewitness identification. The tally accelerated when the Legislature created a clear pathway for requesting DNA testing in 2001, said Edwin Colfax, a project manager at the Task Force on Indigent Defense.
Criminal Court of Appeals Judge Barbara Hervey, a member of an expert panel that was commissioned by the Legislature in 2009 to study the causes of wrongful convictions and make recommendations, called the bill a great step forward.
Cory Session, the brother of Timothy Cole, who died in prison in 1999 and was posthumously exonerated, and for whom the panel studying wrongful convictions was named, warned that without the bill, the criminal justice system will continue to make too many mistakes.
“It is time for us to move forward and get out of the dark ages with wrongful convictions,” said Session, a policy director for the Texas Innocence Project.
He suggested enforcing a procedure used by the Dallas Police Department for identification — a sequential, double-blind lineup. In this process, the administrator does not know which participant is the suspect and presents suspects to a witness one by one.
The method has been proved more effective in other states, Session said.
The committee also discussed two other bills related to preventing convictions of the innocent. One would require law enforcement officers to record interrogations for violent, serious crimes. The other addresses writs of habeas corpus, which order that people in custody be brought before a court. The proposed measure would extend the limit for the writs filed under certain circumstances.
The AP report, by Sommer Ingram is, "Bill to reduce wrong convictions passes committee." It's via the Houston Chronicle.
A Texas House committee advanced legislation Tuesday that would require law enforcement agencies to standardize the way eyewitnesses identify suspects in an effort to reduce the number of wrongful convictions.
The House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee voted to require agencies to adopt a written policy based on a model or create something similar to determine how they conduct photographic or live lineups. Currently only 12 percent of agencies in the state have written policies.
To avoid unintentionally influencing the witness, the person administering the lineup would be prohibited from knowing who the suspect in the case is. The procedures would be written based on reliable research on eyewitness memory and relevant policies developed by other governments and agencies.
Advocates say the issue is one of the most important in criminal justice, and lawmakers have long seen a need for reform in this area of the system. Texas leads the nation in the most convicts exonerated by DNA evidence, with more than 40 people released from prison since 1994.
Seven men who spent decades imprisoned for crimes they didn't commit testified before the committee in support of the legislation. They said they wouldn't have lost years of their lives behind bars if the lineup process had been conducted differently.
The bill's author, Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, said mistaken eyewitness identification is the leading cause of wrongful convictions and amending the identification process is a crucial step to fixing the problem. Ohio, North Carolina, New Jersey and Wisconsin have implemented similar reform legislation.
"The idea is to establish a fairly uniform way of doing things across the state, whether in a small town or a large county, so we have some understanding of this process," Gallego said.
Gallego said if an agency doesn't comply with the law, its non-compliance could be acceptable as evidence in court but does not bar admission of the eyewitness identification testimony.
The bill grows out of recommendations from the Timothy Cole Advisory Panel on Wrongful Convictions, named after the first Texan to be posthumously exonerated of a crime by DNA testing. Cole was wrongly convicted of a rape he did not commit in 1986 and died of complications from asthma in 1999 while serving his 25-year sentence.
The article also notes that Governor Perry has pledged to sign the bill.
Details of HB 215 are available from Texas Legislature Online.
The other two bills considered by the Committee, also recommended by the Timothy Cole Advisory Panel on Wrongful Convictions, are HB 219 and HB 220. Both bills are also sponsored by Gallego. HB 219 deals with electronic recording and admissibility of certain custodial interrogations. HB 220 deals is procedures for applications for writs of habeas corpus based on relevant scientific evidence. Those two bills remain in the Committee, but are likely to be voted out at its next meeting.
Earlier coverage begins at the link. More on Tim Cole's wrongful conviction and posthumous exoneration begins here. Earlier coverage of the Task Force on Indigent Defense, Texas Criminal Justice Integrity Unit, and the Timothy Cole Advisory Panel on Wrongful Convictions, at the links.