Senate Bill 1611 authored by Sen. Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) and Sen. Robert Duncan (R-Lubbock) has passed out of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee by a vote of 5 to 1. The original version of the bill is posted on our Pending Legislation page, however it was significantly narrowed in committee to simply require prosecutors to disclose certain materials, including witness statements and offense reports, to defense attorneys.
The Texas Tribune reports that the bill also clarifies that prosecutors would “have an ongoing duty to reveal information, and it would provide sanctions in cases where the discovery requirements are violated.” The Tribune continues that the measure has widespread support from prosecutors around the state.
The namesake of the bill, Michael Morton, was wrongfully convicted for the murder of his wife Christine after exculpatory evidence in the possession of the district attorney who tried his case was not disclosed to his lawyers. (See previous blog posts about the case.) He says of his work at the legislature to improve discovery laws since his release, ” “I have previously said I do not want a revolution and I am not out for revenge. My goal has been and continues to be to effectuate changes that promote transparency and accountability.”
The Open File will continue to track the course of the bill as it moves through the Texas legislature.