Today's Dallas Morning News reports, "Dallas DA Craig Watkins to push for law allowing appeals based on racial factors." It's written by Scott Goldstein.
Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins said he plans to advocate for a state law that would allow criminals to appeal their conviction or sentence on the grounds that race was a factor.
The Racial Justice Act would be based in part on similar laws passed in recent years in North Carolina and Kentucky and would apply, at least initially, only in death penalty cases, Watkins said in an interview Monday. Defendants would be allowed to present evidence from their case or through general statistics to show that race was a significant factor in their prosecution or sentence.
“Throughout history, race has unfortunately played a part, an ugly part, in our criminal justice system,” Watkins said. “This is an opportunity for us to address not only the past, and those individuals who are still being affected by the disparities in treatment, but also in looking forward to make sure that we don’t have those same disparities in our criminal justice system.”
Watkins acknowledged a difficult fight for any such bill in the heavily conservative Texas Legislature. But he said he sees a benefit in floating the proposal now nonetheless because “even if it’s not passed, at least we’ve started the conversation,” he said.
Watkins said he plans to discuss the idea with lawmakers and hopes to have a bill filed in the next few months.
Academic studies have argued that a racial disparity in sentencing exists. One 2008 study by a University of Denver professor concluded that black defendants in Harris County, which includes Houston, were more likely to get a death sentence than white defendants.
Blacks comprise 40 percent of Texas’ nearly 300 death row inmates, while 11 percent of the state’s population is black. Researchers caution, however, that such raw numbers don’t take into account a number of factors.
"Dallas DA: Texas should pass 'Racial Justice Act'," is the AP report filed by Nomaan Merchant. It's via the Galveston Daily News.
The Dallas prosecutor who built a reputation for freeing wrongfully convicted inmates says he has an idea to advance criminal justice reform in Texas: allowing defendants to appeal convictions and sentences on the basis of race.
Craig Watkins, the Dallas County district attorney, said in a recent interview that he wants lawmakers to consider what he called the Racial Justice Act. Such an act might allow defendants to introduce evidence, either in their specific case or through general statistics, to argue that their prosecutions or sentences were influenced by race, he said.
"The issue that we're bringing to light is to make sure that everything is fair, no matter what you look like, no matter where you come from, and you're treated just like anyone else," Watkins said. "And if you deserve a death sentence, then you will get it. If you didn't, then you shouldn't be on death row."