Texas State Senator Rodney Ellis has said that in the 2009 term he would introduce legislation to reform eyewitness identification procedures, and this week he did just that. On Monday, Senator Ellis (who also serves as the Innocence Project Board Chairman) submitted three key pieces of legislation to improve the criminal justice system in Texas, and prevent further wrongful convictions.
would create an Innocence Commission to investigate the causes of wrongful convictions in Texas, and propose solutions to prevent similar injustices.
would require the videotaping of custodial interrogations, which greatly reduce the possibility of false confessions and, perhaps most importantly, provide judges and juries with the best evidence of what transpired during an interrogation.
requires police departments to adopt eyewitness identification procedures that are proven by research and experience to minimize the possibility of eyewitness misidentification, and to also commit those eyewitness identification procedures to writing.
An investigative report by the
Dallas Morning News
in October showed that faulty eyewitness testimony played a major role in 18 of the 19 Dallas County wrongful convictions proven by post-conviction DNA testing. Praising The Dallas News and maintaining the need for these reforms, Senator Ellis wrote:
As evidenced by The Dallas News' series…which did the state a great service by investigating the causes of Dallas County's 19 DNA exonerations, eyewitness identification procedures must be overhauled, with the goal of making evidence as reliable as possible. Under my proposal, police departments must adopt procedures based on science and proven best practices and train detectives in these methods.
Eyewitness identification reform is being embraced in municipalities, counties, and states across the country, but there is still a long way to go before the most accurate eyewitness identification practices are standard practice. These bills in Texas, and other reforms set to be introduced across the country in 2009, are a sign that critical reforms to aid law enforcement and prevent wrongful convictions could be on the horizon.