The Dallas Morning News Editorial Board has named a moratorium on executions and a study commission one of their major goals of 2011.
Texas legislators gather in Austin in nine days. If ever there were a year for progress on some of this newspaper’s goals for our city, region and state, this is it. We warned last year that the price continues to grow for the state and city as our leaders keep kicking major problems down the road. Texas and Dallas have a chance to find solutions this year. In fact, 2011 is the year for our leaders (and wannabes) to stand and deliver. You may recall the 1980s movie by that title, the one about crusading school principal Jaime Escalante. We see no reason the same couldn’t be said for our legislators, council members and school trustees – and their constituents. Enough kicking the can. Stand and deliver.
Get it right on criminal justice
• Revamp rules for eyewitness evidence.
• Require digital recording of interrogations.
• Examine the appeals and pardons procedures.
• Create a reliable forensic science commission.
• Halt executions and appoint a panel to recommend changes to Texas’ use of the death penalty.
Some of the sensible reforms that could have kept innocent people out of prison failed in the 2009 session to procedural motions. But after a year in which human error was exposed in the high-profile Anthony Graves case – on top of a foundation of doubt from years of DNA exonerations – the need for justice reform is too big to ignore.
That’s why we will call on legislators to revamp and make uniform rules for dealing with eyewitness evidence. This most unreliable form of evidence cannot be left to the shaky methods of untrained investigators. We also will keep pushing the Legislature to mandate digital recording and archiving of interrogations. Likewise, legislators need to require that even confessions are verified by other evidence.
As they pursue those goals, lawmakers must examine the appeals and pardons process so the truth has a chance of coming to light. Texas’ appeals process is myopically focused on legal maneuvers, leaving little room for claims of actual innocence.
Austin also needs to create a post-conviction forensic science commission with a sense of public purpose, unlike the current one, which is prone to political hijacking.
Finally, we will press legislators to halt executions in Texas and create a blue-ribbon panel of experts to make recommendations about the future of the nation’s busiest death chamber.
Where other states have acted boldly, Texas has averted its eyes. That should change in 2011.