Michael Morton speaks at the Innocence Project annual gala in New York City.
The Texas House of Representatives approved the Michael Morton Act on May 13. Gov. Perry is expected to sign the bill into law.
Read more about the bill’s passage
Today marks the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in
Brady v. Maryland
, on May 13, 1963, which ruled that prosecutors must share any evidence favorable to the accused with the defense at trial. The Texas House of Representatives has selected this historic date to vote on a bill that would expand upon that ruling. SB 1611, the Michael Morton Act, could help standardize discovery procedures across the state and lead to greater transparency.
Supporters of the bill hope that it may also prevent wrongful convictions based on prosecutorial misconduct. Michael Morton spent 25 years in prison for murdering his wife and was later exonerated through DNA testing. The lead prosecutor in the case, Ken Anderson, has been criminally charged with concealing evidence of Morton’s innocence at his trial among other charges of misconduct. He is also being investigated by the State Bar of Texas.
State Senators Rodney Ellis and Robert Duncan co-sponsor the bill. Ellis is also the Chair of the Innocence Project Board of Directors. Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck, who represented Morton, supports the legislation.
With the proposed legislation, lawmakers hope to reduce chances for prosecutors to overlook evidence of innocence. The law would require prosecutors to give defense lawyers access to evidence in the state’s file without regard to the information’s potential impact on the verdict.
“It telegraphs legislators’ intent that they want prosecutors to err on the side of disclosure,” Scheck said. “That’s how you take care of this problem.”