Building the Infrastructure for 'Justice Through Science': The Texas Model
38 Pages Posted: 11 May 2017
Date Written: February 19, 2017
This article surveys the important reforms adopted by the Texas legislature to advance the quality of forensic science that form what we call the "infrastructure" of forensic science in the state. In all, the legislature put into place six key components that now form the Texas forensic science infrastructure: (1) the Texas Forensic Science Commission; (2) the Texas Criminal Justice Integrity Unit (a stakeholder committee that hosts discussion meetings and training programs); (3) the Michael Morton Act, which instituted expansive prosecutorial disclosure from pre-plea to post-conviction; (4) the "junk science" writ, a habeas petition that allows challenges to the forensic science used to obtain a conviction if new evidence undermines the validity of the evidence, (5) the Office of Capital and Forensic Writs, a statewide public defender for habeas petitions; and (6) state laws requiring the preservation and testing of biological evidence.
The article also describes two local innovations that have transformed the roles each institution plays in the criminal justice system and have become national models. The first innovation emerged from the shambles of the scandal-ridden Houston Police Department Crime Laboratory in the early 2000s. In 2014, the Houston Forensic Science Center took over the laboratory's operations under the supervision of a board of directors consisting of community volunteers. The Dallas County District Attorney's Office originated the second innovation by establishing the country’s first Conviction Integrity Unit in 2007. Prosecutors who work in the Dallas County CIU, as well as those in the other CIUs now established in the state's other large cities, play important leadership roles in shaping state policies to prevent wrongful convictions and advance the practice of forensic science. Moreover, both of these local innovations have transformed the cultures in their respective institutions from highly adversarial to ones that embrace collaboration with the defense bar.
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