Senate passes exoneration review commission bill

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(Austin, TX) // Today, the Texas Senate unanimously passed HB 48, which would create the Tim Cole Exoneration Review Commission to study wrongful convictions. HB 48 is authored by Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon (D-San Antonio) and sponsored by Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston). The bill now heads back to the House, as the Senate changed the bill.

“Texas takes away the liberty of more citizens through incarceration than any other state in this nation,” said Senator Ellis. “With that power comes the responsibility to make sure we are locking up only the guilty, protecting the innocent, and continuing to make our justice system as reliable, fair, and effective as possible.”

Senator Ellis continued: “I want to commend Rep. McClendon for her dedication in working to develop bipartisan support for a bipartisan concept. I look forward to putting the final touches on the bill to ensure it heads to Governor Abbott.”

HB 48 creates the Tim Cole Exoneration Review Commission to bring together trusted criminal justice experts to review proven wrongful convictions, identify the main causes of those convictions, and recommend more reliable practices to improve public safety and prevent such tragedies from reoccurring in the future. Currently, when an innocent person is wrongfully convicted, our system does not have any institutional mechanism to evaluate the conviction, identify what went wrong, and correct those mistakes to ensure it does not happen again.

The Commission is named after Tim Cole (pictured above), a Texas Tech University student who was wrongfully convicted of a crime he did not commit. Cole passed away in prison in 1999 after 25 years in prison. He became the state’s first and only posthumous exoneration in 2009, and then-Governor Rick Perry later pardoned Cole in 2010.

The Commission would review convictions of innocent people in much the same way as the National Transportation Safety Board investigates major accidents. When a major airplane, train, or space shuttle accident occurs, an in-depth investigation begins within hours to identify the causes and possible remedies to ensure it is not repeated. The Commission would provide similar safeguards to ensure justice is served in our state.

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