In an op-ed in yesterday’s Dallas Morning News, Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson calls for a state innocence commission to investigate the causes of wrongful conviction and recommend reforms to prevent future injustice. Charles Chatman is the most recent person freed by DNA testing in the state. So far,
30 Texans have been exonerated with DNA evidence
. (Chatman and several other people in Texas will not be officially exonerated until they have an order from the state’s highest criminal court or a pardon from the governor.) Jefferson notes that untold others remain behind bars without the benefit of DNA evidence.
Even one wrongful conviction should be a shocking aberration in our system of justice, which is based on the principle that "it is better that the guilty go free than the innocent be jailed." These 30 cases come from the small subset of convictions in which genetic evidence has been preserved by the state and therefore raise the deeply troubling – and largely untestable – possibility of a proportionate number of erroneous convictions in which no DNA testing is possible.With this in mind, I commend Sen. Rodney Ellis' proposal that the Texas Legislature create a commission to investigate each instance of DNA exoneration and assess the likelihood of wrongful convictions in other cases, so that we can begin to reduce the chances that innocent Texans are incarcerated. …
Further, no one should fear the "soft on crime" label for supporting a commission of the sort I have in mind. Every wrongful conviction leaves the true criminal unpunished and free to commit other crimes, while undermining our faith in the justice system, which is so essential to an orderly society.
Read the full op-ed here
. (Dallas Morning News, 01/30/08)
Last year, State Sen. Rodney Ellis, the chairman of the Innocence Project Board of Directors, proposed a state innocence commission but the bill failed to pass. He has said he will introduce the bill again in the legislature’s next session.
Read more about other innocence commissions around the country