Sunday, December 1, 2013

Texas passes Michael Morton Act-Protect the innocent from wrongful conviction

Texas district and county attorneys are preparing to implement a new law that aims to prevent wrongful convictions by requiring prosecutors to open their files to defense lawyers, reported the Texas Tribune.

The Michael Morton Act, which lawmakers approved this year in the wake of the namesake’s case, requires prosecutors to disclose evidence in their files to defense lawyers in criminal cases. Morton was sentenced to life in prison for his wife’s murder. After he spent nearly a quarter-century in prison, DNA evidence revealed that he was innocent, and an investigation of the case revealed that the prosecutor had not disclosed evidence that could have prevented Morton’s wrongful conviction.

Williamson County District Attorney and state district Judge Ken Anderson went to jail and lost his law license because of his role in Michael Morton's wrongful conviction, read my GateHouse column on Anderson.

Morton, who was freed in 2011, was a fixture at the Capitol this year, lobbying for bills like the Morton Act that increase accountability for prosecutors. Under the act, prosecutors are required to give defense lawyers evidence in their files and to document the release of that information.

In many large counties across the state, prosecutors have long had open-file policies, so the transition to the new law is less challenging. But in smaller counties where sharing such large volumes of information is not routine, establishing the basic nuts and bolts of transferring reams of data while not exposing private information is a big task to tackle.

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