American Bar Association Report on Criminal Justice System in Texas Finds Death Penalty Falls Short

The criminal justice system in Texas is improving on the back of numerous recent exonerations, but the state’s record on its death penalty remains poor, according to a new report.

Details of the report by the American Bar Association are contained in an article in the Texas Tribune.

The ABA has sponsored detailed assessment projects of the criminal justice system and the death penalty in 12 states.

“In Texas, an assessment team of former judges, prosecutors, elected officials, practitioners and legal scholars noted that despite recent reforms, there still exist a number of areas in which the state’s death penalty system falls far short,” the ABA states in a press release.

“Notably, the Lone Star State appears out of step with better practices implemented in other capital jurisdictions, failing to rely on scientifically reliable evidence and processes in the administration of the death penalty and providing the public with inadequate information to understand and evaluate capital punishment in the state,” the ABA states.

The report is alarming because it highlights the high risk of innocent people being executed in Texas.

It also outlines a host of recommendations intended to improve the criminal justice system in Texas.

While the report praises the state for recent improvements in its criminal justice system which are intended to make it fairer and more transparent, the report says much work remains to be done.

The American Bar Association says its recommendations would help restore public confidence in the criminal justice system and help ensure that Texans aren’t wrongfully convicted and executed.

Recommendations include requiring biological evidence from the scenes of violent crimes to be stored indefinitely, banning the execution of people with mental retardation and other mental illness and establishing an innocence commission to examine the lessons of wrongful convictions.

“Texas has made some good policy decisions over the last couple of years,” Royal Ferguson, the founding dean of the University of North Texas at Dallas College of Law and a former U.S. district judge who served on the ABA’s Texas Capital Punishment Assessment Team said. “There are a lot more that need to be made.”

The Texas Tribune reported since 1989, there have been 132 convictions overturned in Texas. That included 12 people who were on death row, according to the National Registry of Exonerations.

Some key pieces of legislation intended to address this problem have been passed in recent years. Legislators set up a regional public defender’s office for people accused of capital crimes six years ago. In 2009, legislators established the Office of Capital Writs which represents inmates on death row.

In 2013, year, the Legislature passed the Michael Morton Act on the back of a high profile exoneration, which requires prosecutors to provide police reports and witness statements to defense lawyers.

When it comes to the ultimate penalty, however, it seems Texas has a long way to go.

Mick Mickelsen is a nationally recognized criminal trial attorney with more than 30 years of experience defending people charged with white-collar crimes, drug offenses, sex crimes, murder, and other serious state and federal offenses.