Thank you for contacting your State Representatives and Senators during the 82nd Texas Regular Legislative Session, which concluded on May 30, 2011. It is clear from our conversations with dozens of legislative offices that TCADP members generated an unprecedented number of calls and emails this year to express their opposition to the death penalty. Your grassroots advocacy plays a critical role in our efforts to shift the political climate on this issue!
From our perspective, the legislature took a few steps forward and (at least) one step back regarding the administration of justice in Texas.
On the positive side:
- The House and Senate unanimously approved House Bill 215, which requires police departments to adopt written guidelines for how they conduct eyewitness identification procedures. Mistaken eyewitness identification is the leading cause of wrongful conviction nationwide and was a factor in 38 of the 45 Texas exonerations based on DNA testing. The bill heads to Governor Perry, who has indicated that he will sign it.
- The legislature also approved House Bill 417, relating to claims for compensation for wrongful conviction. Among other provisions, the bill stipulates that “a person is entitled to compensation if… the district court’s dismissal order is based on a motion to dismiss in which the state’s attorney states that no credible evidence exists that inculpates the defendant and, either in the motion or in an affidavit, the state’s attorney states that the state’s attorney believes that the defendant is actually innocent of the crime for which the person was sentenced.” This provision addresses the case of Anthony Graves, who was denied compensation by the State Comptroller’s Office because the order releasing him did not contain the words “actual innocence.” The bill also provides exonorees with access to health insurance through the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
- Senate Bill 122 provides greater access to post-conviction DNA testing in cases where the evidence was not previously subjected to DNA testing or could benefit from newer testing techniques. Both SB 122 and HB 215 were recommendations from the Timothy Cole Advisory Panel on Wrongful Convictions.
On the disappointing side:
- On Saturday, May 28, 2011, after some wrangling between the Senate and House of Representatives, Senate Bill 377 passed in its original form by a vote of 132 to 14 in the House, with 2 present not voting. This bill expands the scope of the death penalty by making the murder of a child who is less than 10 years of age a capital offense. The 14 Representatives who voted against it are: Burnam; Dutton; Farrar; Gonzalez; Gutierrez; Howard, D.; Johnson; Marquez; Miles; Muñoz; Naishtat; Oliveira; Rodriguez; and Veasey. The bill has been sent to the Governor for his signature.
If you live in the district of one of the Representatives who voted NO on SB 377, please take a moment to call or email your legislator to thank him/her for taking a stand against this needless expansion of the death penalty. Go to http://www.capitol.state.tx.us/Home.aspx to determine contact information for your legislator or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org (example: email@example.com).
- The legislature did not take action on the vast majority of bills related to the death penalty; it also left several other important criminal justice reforms pending.
If you have questions about other death penalty-related bills or the voting record of your legislators, please contact Kristin at firstname.lastname@example.org or 512-441-1808. Thanks again for responding to our calls for action during the session and, particularly, for your support for HB 819, a bill to repeal the death penalty in Texas.