New Weapon in the Fight Against Wrongful Convictions

One day you are approached by a Detective and he questions you about a criminal investigation. You’re a suspect in a murder but you know you didn’t do it. You tell your attorney, your family, and the police. You’re forced to take this case to trial. The jury ultimately convicts you with the evidence presented but years down the line technology changes. This new technology is applied and it discredits the evidence used to convict you. You have been wrongfully convicted.

Texas has a well-known (unfavorable or favorable, depending on your point of view) reputation when it comes to the death penalty. The state has taken a "tough on crime" approach for many years and it has worked so well that Texas now holds the record for the most executions of any state since 1976. Unfortunately, this record does not mean that the system is not prone to error.

The Innocence Project is a national nonprofit legal organization based in New York. The organization targets cases in which defendants were convicted based on shaky evidence or unfair trial procedures. It may come as no surprise that most of the organization’s cases come out of the so-called tough on crime states. The most notable cases are those in which defendants were convicted for crimes that they did not commit, also known as wrongful convictions. In Texas, there have been at least two very publicized cases in which defendants were wrongfully convicted or, worse, wrongfully executed (See Michael Morton and Cameron Todd Willingham).

SB 344 Aims to Fight Wrongful Convictions in Criminal Cases

Advances in forensic science techniques over time have made it possible to overturn some wrongful convictions with DNA evidence. But what happens when it was forensic science that wrongfully convicted an individual in the first place? What about those cases where an advance in forensic science displaces and/or discredits the method that originally led to a conviction? The Texas legislature took a big step to correct these “junk science” issues last year with S.B. 344.

The law went into effect on September 1, 2013 and it gives defendants an opportunity to challenge their convictions using the procedures of habeas corpus that are already in place. The difference now is that defendants can challenge a conviction on the basis of relevant scientific evidence if they can show that scientific evidence exists that was not available at the original trial or that scientific evidence exists that contradicts the evidence relied on at the original trial. Code of Crim. Proc. Art. 11.073(a)(1)-(2). Defendants may qualify for post-conviction relief if the new evidence does not otherwise raise any admissibility issues and the Court makes a preponderance of the evidence finding that the person would not have been convicted if the evidence had been presented at the original trial.

The law has the potential to reverse convictions where newly available forensic evidence or advances in forensic science can prove a defendant’s innocence. Moreover, it gives Texas courts the ability to revisit cases if the scientific evidence is now suspect or out of date. While there’s no sign that Texas is looking to change its death penalty friendly reputation anytime soon, these measures could go a long way in restoring some confidence in the current way of doing things by giving defendants another weapon to fight against wrongful convictions.

The best way to prevent being accused and convicted of a crime you did not commit? Working with an aggressive criminal defense lawyer. In San Antonio, or Texas, the prosecution attacks those in the court strongly, and your lawyer can not be afraid to fight back. With Attorney Guillermo Lara, you know you are in good hands. Contact our office for more information about how we can help you during this difficult time.

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