RECENT LEGISLATION: Texas Law To Protect the Innocent May Curtail Death Penalty

A new Texas law requiring DNA testing of all biological evidence prior to seeking the death penalty could reduce the number of capital cases. District Attorney Billy Byrd of Upshur County noted, “Essentially, every piece of evidence will have to be tested,” he said, which could delay trials more than a year. “Certainly, that will be the case. We will have to deal with certain delays and longer waits,” he added, noting it is not uncommon for DNA evidence to take more than a year to be processed. Nevertheless, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott (a likely Republican candidate for governor) is a strong supporter of the law, as is Senator Rodney Ellis, Democrat of Houston, who introduced the bill. Abbott believes the law will eventually save the state time and resources, because the necessary testing will be done upfront.

The law goes into effect on September 1. DNA testing has exonerated 49 defendants in Texas (primarily in non-capital cases).

(S. Thomas, “Law could curb death penalty cases in Texas,” Longview News Journal, August 22, 2013; B. Grissom, “Some Worry Over a Law to Increase DNA Testing,” Texas Tribune, Aug. 17, 2013). See Innocence and Recent Legislation.