The Texas Tribune posts, "Perry Signs Michael Morton Act," by Brandi Grissom.
With exoneree Michael Morton by his side, Gov. Rick Perry on Thursday signed a measure that aims to avoid wrongful convictions by preventing prosecutors from suppressing evidence.
"This is a major victory for integrity and fairness in our judicial system," Perry said of Senate Bill 1611, which was named for Morton, who spent 25 years in prison before being exonerated. It was the governor's first public signing ceremony of the session.
Since his exoneration, Morton has lobbied lawmakers to pass legislation that would prevent others from suffering the same fate. Under SB 1611, prosecutors will be required to turn over evidence to defendants accused of crimes and to keep a record of the evidence they disclose. The landmark 1963 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Brady v. Maryland already requires prosecutors to give defendants information that is “material either to guilt or to punishment.” The Morton Act requires disclosure of evidence regardless of its materiality to guilt or punishment. It is the first significant reform to Texas discovery laws since 1965.
Perry said it was fitting that his signing of the Michael Morton Act fell almost exactly 50 years after the Supreme Court issued the Brady ruling.
"Perry signs Morton Act into law," is by Chuck Lindell in the Austin American-Statesman.
State Sens. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, and Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, wrote the bill and worked through a series of compromises during several weeks of intense — and at times seemingly futile — negotiations.
Reps. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, and Tryon Lewis, R-Odessa, moved the bill rapidly through the House, ensuring that the delicate compromise forged in the Senate was not undone by late changes or amendments.
Perry used four pens to sign the bill into law, then presented them to Morton, Ellis, Duncan and Thompson. At the end of the ceremony, Thompson presented Morton with the gavel used to mark House passage of his namesake legislation.
• Ensures that defendants can view, and electronically copy, all police offense reports and witness statements in prosecution files.
• Protects witnesses and victims by requiring defense lawyers to redact identifying information, such as addresses and phone numbers, from documents shared with defendants and potential witnesses.
• Allows defense lawyers to share prosecution information with the defendant, investigators, experts and consulting lawyers, but all others must be approved by the trial judge.
• Requires prosecutors to list the evidence provided to defense lawyers, creating a record for potential appeals or future legal disputes.
• Requires prosecutors to promptly disclose favorable evidence uncovered during and after trial.
The Dallas Morning News reports, "Gov. Perry signs Michael Morton Act into law," by Claire Cardona.
Gov. Rick Perry on Thursday signed the Michael Morton Act into law with Morton and the senators and representatives who made it possible at his side.
Morton didn’t speak to the press, just smiled while Perry put ink to paper and kissed the pen after Perry was finished.
Authored by Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, and Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, the act creates a uniform open-file policy that requires prosecutors to hand over all exculpatory evidence such at witness testimony or offense reports.
"‘Michael Morton Act’ signed into law," is Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News coverage by Eva Ruth Moravec.
Ellis said the case’s widespread media attention, and proximity to Austin, may have helped it get passed during this legislative session.
“The trial put the issue of discovery front and center for months,” he said. “It put such a bright spotlight on the need for discovery reform.”
Ken Anderson, then-Williamson County District Attorney, is accused of deliberately withholding evidence from the defense that indicated Morton’s innocence. As the bill passed the Texas House on May 14, Morton was present and was recognized by lawmakers.
The bill is one of several Ellis has authored or sponsored to aid exonerees. House Bill 166, which would create a commission to review future exonerations, has passed the Texas House, but is awaiting a vote in a senate committee. In Texas, 117 people have been exonerated of crimes they didn’t commit, causing the state to lead the nation in exonerations.
More on the innocence commission legislation in the next post.
"Gov. Perry Signs Senate Bill 1611, The Michael Morton Act," is the governor's news release with his signing statement. Here's the full text:
Gov. Rick Perry today signed Senate Bill 1611, the Michael Morton Act, which will help prevent wrongful convictions in Texas. The governor was joined by Sens. Rodney Ellis and Robert Duncan, Reps. Senfronia Thompson and Tryon Lewis, and Michael Morton for the bill signing.
"Texas is a law-and-order state, and with that tradition comes a responsibility to make our judicial process as transparent and open as possible," Gov. Perry said. "Senate Bill 1611 helps serve that cause, making our system fairer and helping prevent wrongful convictions and penalties harsher than what is warranted by the facts."
The Michael Morton Act will allow Texas' criminal justice system to be more responsive to a case, even after it has been tried, by ensuring a more open discovery process. The bill's open file policy allows for broader discovery, and removes barriers for accessing any evidence, except for items that would affect the security of a victim or witness.
"Discovery reform is simply vital to the reliability and quality of our justice system," Sen. Ellis said. "The Michael Morton Act will help safeguard the innocent, convict only the guilty, and provide justice the people of Texas can have faith in."
"I have long been an advocate for an efficient, effective and uniform court system across Texas. This legislation is a giant step forward in reaching that goal," Sen. Duncan said. "I am proud that stakeholders from across the state were able to come together and set aside their differences to improve our criminal justice system."
"The Michael Morton Act is an incredibly important step in creating a more just Texas criminal justice system," Rep. Thompson said. "It will improve the reliability of criminal convictions and ensure that we have a quality justice system where all relevant evidence and facts are brought to light, and allow for more efficient resolutions to criminal proceedings."
Senate Bill 1611 becomes law on Jan. 1, 2014.
Earlier coverage of the Michael Morton Act begins at the link.