Ellis Legislation to Reform Eyewitness Identification Passes Criminal Justice Committee

(AUSTIN)—The Senate Criminal Justice Committee today unanimously approved SB 121, legislation by Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) which will enact a pivotal eyewitness identification reform recommended by the Tim Cole Advisory Panel. Similar legislation unanimously passed the Senate last session.

SB 121 requires all Texas law enforcement agencies in the state to adopt written eyewitness identification policies based on proven best practices by September 1, 2012. The current bill was negotiated or endorsed by DA’s, defense lawyers, the police, members of the Texas judiciary (Justice Keller, Justice Jefferson, Justice Hervey), and the Governor’s office.

“This is very important step toward improving justice in Texas,” Ellis said. “It is the result of two years of cooperation with prosecutors, defense attorneys, law enforcement, members of the judiciary and the Governor’s office. It enacts a simple best practice to ensure we have reliable evidence in our courtrooms to ensure the conviction of the guilty and the protection of the innocent.”

According to the national Innocence Project, approximately 75% of the 266 DNA exonerations in the United States have been due to eyewitness misidentification. In Texas, 38 of its 44 DNA wrongful convictions (86%) were largely or exclusively due to incorrect eyewitness identifications. Despite the fact that certain “best practices” have been shown to improve the accuracy and reliability of eyewitness evidence, the Justice Project found in November 2008 that only 12% of police departments in Texas even have written policies or guidelines for conducting lineups.

* Texas has more DNA exonerations than any other state (44, including Cornelius Dupree).
* In the United States, 266 men have been exonerated through DNA, according to the national Innocence Project.
* According to the Innocence Project, approximately 75% of DNA exonerations in the United States have been due to eyewitness misidentification.
* In Texas, 38 of its 44 DNA exonerations (86%) were largely or exclusively due to incorrect eyewitness identifications, including all 9 Harris County DNA exonerations.
* Cornelius Dupree’s conviction was overturned in Dallas County on January 4, 2011 based on DNA evidence. He served 30 years in prison after being convicted of aggravated robbery with a deadly weapon in 1980. His wrongful conviction was based on a mistaken eyewitness identification.

Sen. Ellis has introduced eyewitness ID reform legislation every session since 2005. Last session, SB 117 passed the Senate unanimously, passed House Jurisprudence 8-2 but died on House Calendars. Under SB 121, the Bill Blackwood Law Enforcement Management Institute of Texas (LEMIT) will develop a model policy and associated training materials in conjunction with law enforcement and scientific experts in eyewitness memory research. All law enforcement agencies must adopt a policy that conforms with the LEMIT model policies.

“Eyewitness reform is a very simple, straightforward change to help create a smarter, more just system,” Ellis said. “It will put in place best practices that will help reduce the number of incorrect identifications that are one of the chief causes of wrongful convictions in Texas.”

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