There is perhaps no greater injustice imaginable than locking someone up in a state penitentiary for a crime that they didn’t commit. In fact, statistics show that the number of wrongful convictions here in the state of Texas is astoundingly high with 117 people being exonerated over the last 25 years.
Part of the problem in Texas, experts argue, is that there are currently no uniform discovery requirements in criminal cases. Instead, state law dictates that prosecutors are only obligated to provide criminal defense lawyers with basic information about the crime and even then, this only happens if it’s ordered by the presiding judge.
Experts indicate that this absence of uniform discovery requirements puts Texas in the minority of states and actually serves to encourage prosecutorial misconduct, including the deliberate withholding of potentially exculpatory evidence.
Last month, two state senators introduced a bill that they say would not only introduce uniform discovery requirements in all criminal cases, but also reduce the number of wrongful convictions in the Lone Star State.
Specifically, Sens. Robert Duncan (R-Lubbock) and Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) have sponsored Senate Bill 1611, which would mandate that prosecutors provide criminal defense lawyers with all available evidence and materials in their possession with the exception of notes relating to strategy.
It would also mandate that criminal defense lawyers provide prosecutors with all available evidence and materials in their possession with the exception of notes relating to strategy or materials that would violate a client’s right against self-incrimination.
“In the name of fairness and justice this legislation is a step in the right direction,” said Duncan. “Reasonable discovery reform is necessary to keep our criminal justice system efficient and effective.”
Senate Bill 1611 would also set forth that both sides have a duty throughout the duration of a criminal case to disclose evidence and/or information, and allow for sanctions if any violation of these requirements occurs.
What are your thoughts on this proposed legislation?
Stay tuned for updates from our San Antonio criminal defense blog …
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This post was provided for informational purposes only and is not to be construed as legal advice.
The Texas Tribune, “Ellis, Duncan file compromise criminal discovery bill,” Brandi Grissom, March 8, 2013
The Star-Telegram, “Texas’ chief justice wants investigation of all wrongful convictions,” Will Weissert, March 7, 2013