ELLIS CALLS FOR REFORMS TO WRONGFUL CONVICTION COMPENSATION SYSTEM IN TEXAS
Senator Rodney Ellis was joined today by exoneration advocates including a man who spent 18 years in prison for a crime he did not commit in calling for reforms to the way Texas repays individuals who have been wrongfully convicted, as well as reforms to eyewitness evidence collection and DNA testing statutes. Ellis said that at least twenty men in Texas have been exonerated through DNA evidence, but that the state is not doing enough to compensate those who have been in prison wrongfully.
According to Ellis, the state currently permits restitution for wrongful imprisonment of $25,000 for every year of time served, with a maximum cap of $500,000. Ellis wants to move the Texas policy to the federal standard, which repays $50,000 per year for imprisonment, or $100,000 per year of death row incarceration, with no cap.
Ellis introduced Larry Fuller, a 57 year old man convicted in 1982 of rape and assault in Dallas County. He was later exonerated in 2006 when DNA evidence proved his innocence. Ellis said the amount of restitution Fuller is eligible for, about $475,000, is not nearly enough to compensate him for all the years of his life lost.
Ellis also proposed a number of reforms to the way eyewitness evidence is collected, as well as the procedures through which DNA testing is allowed. Part of the case against Larry Fuller relied on eyewitness identification through a line-up procedure that Ellis and other experts at the press conference said was performed poorly. Edwin Colfay of the Justice Project said that investigators should treat eyewitness evidence collection with the same standards and rigor that they treat physical evidence. "Eyewitness memory science has taught us that the collection of eyewitness evidence is susceptible to contamination, if its done improperly or badly," he said. " If we reconceptualize the collection of eyewitness evidence along the same model as physical evidence, I think we can go a long way."
Some of the reforms proposed include better training for police officers with respect to conducting line-ups, videotaping the line-up procedure, and using a "double-blind" model, where the official conducting the line-up does not know which person is the actual suspect, in order to avoid non-verbal clues that might influence the eyewitness.
Ellis also called for the formation of a Texas innocence commission, which would be charged with examining cases of wrongful imprisonment to discern the cause of the conviction, and make recommendations to the Texas criminal justice system to prevent future wrongful convictions. "The need for an innocence commission is clear in Texas," he said. "We have the largest prison population in the free world. So if there's anyplace in America we ought to have one it ought to be in Texas."