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February 03, 2010

Posted by Alexandra Natapoff at 12:34 PM

Reform efforts in Texas and elsewhere

It is becoming increasingly common to see state commissions devoted to reducing wrongful convictions. These commissions often focus on three key sources of error: mistaken eyewitness testimony, false confessions, and snitches, although there are many additional subjects as well. For example, the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice proposed several legislative reforms in this vein--the jailhouse informant corroboration reforms were passed twice by the California legislature but vetoed by Governor Schwarzenegger. Wisconsin recently established the Wisconsin Criminal Justice Study Commission. In 2002, North Carolina created a special commission to review post-conviction innocence claims.

In this same vein, Texas has established the Tim Cole Advisory Panel to reduce wrongful convictions in the state, and one of its missions is to examine the use of informants. Here's a recent news story about the Commission's visit to Tarrant County, Texas, in which the district attorney maintains a much-praised open-file policy. Here's an excerpt from GritsforBreakfast coverage of the panel's first meeting: Good vibes at Tim Cole Advisory Panel on false convictions.


Thanks for the props, but IMO the best recent snitch-reform legislation at the state level has been so-called Rachel's Law in Florida last year. What passed there was good, but earlier versions of the bill include even more aggressive reforms that could also serve as models for drafting future bills.

In Texas, our main accomplishments were requiring corroboration - for drug informants in 2001 and jailhouse informants in 2009. Those turned out to be surprisingly noncontroversial bills to pass, especially in 2009 - DAs and narcs didn't like it, but few would put their reputations out there to defend the practice. By contrast, the FL bill required some real, bipartisan political muscle to pull off.

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