News Release ~ 05/16/2013

Texas Makes Progress on Discovery Reform; Governor Signs Michael Morton Act into Law

Washington, DC (May 16, 2013) – In a week marking the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s opinion in Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963), holding that the government must disclose to the defense all information favorable to the accused, the State of Texas today took a significant step toward the realization of the promise of Brady. The passage and signing into law of Senate Bill 1611 – The Michael Morton Act – delivers positive change to discovery in criminal cases in Texas. Significantly, the new law codifies that the prosecution should make available to the defense, automatically upon request, all police offense reports and witness statements in their files.

Michael Morton, the namesake of this legislation, was himself released from prison in Texas in 2011 after serving nearly a quarter-century for the murder of his wife, which he did not commit. A court of inquiry was convened to look into the handling of evidence in the Morton case, and specifically the conduct of then Williamson County District Attorney, and now State District Judge, Ken Anderson. Anderson, who had prosecuted Mr. Morton, was himself recently arrested in connection with misconduct in the handling of evidence in Mr. Morton’s case.

NACDL President Steven D. Benjamin said: “The systemic violation of Brady must stop. Texas has demonstrated that reform is possible. Laws must be passed to enforce the Constitutional duty to provide to the defense with all information favorable to the accused. Towards that end, leading U.S. Senators introduced bipartisan legislation in 2012 to achieve needed discovery reform in criminal proceedings – The Fairness in Disclosure Act of 2012. This Act was introduced at the same time as Special Counsel Schuelke's Report to Judge Emmet Sullivan on Prosecutorial Misconduct in the late Sen. Ted Stevens case. NACDL supports these efforts, and the NACDL Task Force on Discovery Reform is developing model legislation to aid legislators in 50 states to ensure fair disclosure and due process for those accused of crime.”

Learn more about discovery reform at www.nacdl.org/discoveryreform.

Contact: Ivan J. Dominguez, Director of Public Affairs & Communications, (202) 465-7662 oridominguez@nacdl.org.

 

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