Improving Discovery in Criminal Cases in Texas is the title of a new report issued by Texas Appleseed and Texas Defender Service. A news release announcing the report is also available. This is from the news release:
The new report, Improving Discovery in Criminal Cases in Texas, is based on an analysis of discovery policies solicited from 43 district attorney’s offices across the state and interviews conducted by pro bono partner Locke Lord LLP in Dallas.
The report recommends Texas’ discovery statute (Code of Criminal Procedure, Article 39.14) be amended to provide these ABA best practices:
- Automatic access to discovery;
- Open file discovery that includes access to police reports, witness statements, expert reports, and criminal histories;
- Defined timelines for initiating discovery; and,
- An explicit continuing obligation to disclose.
"Transparency could lessen wrongful convictions, study finds," is Chuck Lindell's report for the Austin American-Statesman.
Criminal justice in Texas could be fairer, faster and less likely to convict innocent people if prosecutors and defense lawyers were required to share more information before trial, a report by two legal advocacy groups says.
Texas law does not require prosecutors to disclose information that is commonly shared in most states, including police reports, witness statements and reports compiled by expert witnesses, says the report, “Improving Discovery in Criminal Cases in Texas,” to be formally released Wednesday.
The result is a hodgepodge of rules varying from county to county, with many district attorney’s offices employing a robust open-file policy for defendants while others restrict information, “meaning access to justice can depend, in part, on where the case is filed,” the report says.
What’s more, Texas is the only state that does not require some sort of mutual discovery before a criminal trial, with defense lawyers opening their files to prosecutors to reveal witness statements, expert opinions and other information that does not incriminate the defendant.
“By disclosing all relevant information, both parties are able to investigate and scrutinize the evidence against the accused. This increases the likelihood that a just result will be reached,” concludes the report, which was compiled by Texas Appleseed, a nonprofit public interest law center, and the Texas Defender Service, a nonprofit that represents death row inmates, by examining the practices of more than 40 Texas counties.
The Texas Tribune posts, "Report: Open Discovery May Thwart Wrongful Convictions," by Brandi Grissom.
The amount of evidence that Texans accused of crimes can get from prosecutors varies across the state, leading to inequities in the way justice is meted out, according to a report released Wednesday, which suggests that requiring more transparency could prevent wrongful convictions.
Texas Defender Service, which represents death row inmates, and Texas Appleseed, a nonprofit that advocates for social justice, researched discovery practices in 40 Texas counties. They found that the wide variation in discovery practices among prosecutors makes access to justice dependent upon the jurisdiction in which the defendant is charged. Those findings, said Rebecca Bernhardt, a Texas Defender Service spokeswoman, give weight to legislation filed in both the House and Senate that would create uniform discovery procedures and require both prosecutors and defense lawyers to share more information in criminal trials.
“We hope that lawmakers get an understanding of the status quo and understand the problems that exist under our current, outdated discovery statute,” Bernhardt said.
Rob Kepple, executive director of the Texas District and County Attorneys Association and a former prosecutor, said he agreed with the conclusions of the report.
“A good open file discovery system could help prevent some problems,” Kepple said. “I think it’s a pretty good report.”
Efforts to reform discovery laws in Texas are not new but have picked up steam since the 2011 exoneration of Michael Morton. He spent nearly 25 years in prison for his wife’s murder before DNA evidence revealed that he was innocent and led to the arrest of another man who is awaiting trial for the crime.
Jordan Smith writes about a separate proposal, "Holding Prosecutors Accountable," at the Austin Chronicle.
In an effort to combat the growing number of wrongful convictions in Texas, state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, on Tuesday filed a bill that would expand the statute of limitations for filing with the State Bar grievances alleging prosecutorial misconduct.
Senate Bill 825 would start once a person is released from prison on a wrongful conviction the four-year statute of limitations for pursuing a complaint of prosecutorial misconduct with the State Bar of Texas. The current statute begins the clock at the time the violation occurs.
The proposed change in the law was prompted by the plight of Michael Morton who was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for the 1986 murder of his wife Christine. Morton was finally released from prison in 2011 after evidence testing revealed the DNA of another man, Mark Alan Norwood, was mingled with Christine's blood on a discarded blue bandana found after the murder behind the Morton's home.
Related posts are in the Michael Morton and Texas Legislature category indexes. The responsibility of the state to provide exculpatory evidence to the defense was articulated in the 1963 Supreme Court ruling in Brady v. Maryland; more via Oyez.