The 140-day legislative session will convene on January 8th and adjourn on May 27th. Pre-filing of bills has begun.
"Bill Would Restrict Informant Testimony in Death Cases," is Brandi Grissom's Texas Tribune post on one of the pre-filed bills. Here's an extended excerpt from this must-read:
Anthony Graves was wrongly convicted and sent to death row in 1994 based largely on the testimony of an alleged accomplice in the fiery murders of six people. The accomplice, while on the execution gurney, admitted he was the lone killer. Ten years later, in 2010, Graves was exonerated.
Like Graves, Muneer Deeb, Michael Toney and Robert Springsteen were sentenced to death after trials that involved the testimony of their cellmates or alleged accomplices. Their convictions were all overturned.
State Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston, has filed a bill, HB 189, that aims to prevent wrongful death sentences in cases that involve unreliable testimony from alleged accomplices or jailhouse snitches who receive a reward for implicating someone else.
“What we have found is that there have been people who, for their own self-interest, have basically fabricated testimony about other folks, and as a consequence that person has been found guilty,” Dutton said.
Criminal justice reform advocates said the measure is a critical next step in Texas’ efforts to prevent wrongful convictions. Critics of the measure, though, argue that current rules already protect defendants against unreliable testimony and that eliminating such accomplice or informant testimony could tie prosecutors’ hands.
Under HB 189, prosecutors in death penalty cases would be unable to use testimony from informants or from alleged accomplices of the defendant if the evidence were obtained in exchange for immunity, leniency or any other special treatment. The measure would also make testimony from cellmates of the defendant inadmissible unless the conversation was recorded.
“Odd as it may sound, Texas is at the vanguard of snitch testimony,” said Alexandra Natapoff, a law professor at Loyola Law School Los Angeles, and author of the Snitching Blog. Texas was one of first states to require the corroboration of jailhouse informant testimony and drug snitches, she said. And Dutton’s bill would make Texas among the first states to prohibit prosecutors from offering criminals benefits for their testimony.
A 2004 Northwestern University study of wrongful convictions found that informants played a major role in more than 45 percent of overturned death sentences nationwide.
More on HB 189, including the text, is at the link. The Texas Legislature Online website is a model of open, accessible information. It allows individuals to track bills, committee meetings, and create alerts. The Legislative Reference Library, located on the 2nd Floor of the Texas Capitol, also has a helpful website.