[The Michael Morton Act], written by Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, requires prosecutors to give lawyers representing the accused any evidence that is relevant to the defense’s case. The intent of the bill, Ellis has said, is to ensure that key facts that could affect the trial aren’t hidden.
“This isn’t necessarily a good thing for me, because my time and my experiences are finished and that’s not going to change,” Morton said to reporters after the bill was signed. “But this law passed today, and was signed, this will make it much better for everybody else, so that what happened to me won’t happen to you.”
This was a super-human effort by multiple people, achieved after a lot of hard work. I don’t mean to discount the value of the bill itself, or of the truly amazing changing of hearts that allowed it to be signed into law.
But there are already laws, like Brady, that mandate the sharing of exculpatory evidence. There are open-file policies in nearly every DA’s office in the state; it’s widely accepted as the only decent way to run a prosecution; those who are going to hide evidence from the defense are probably not going to be influenced by yet another toothless admonition to ‘play nice.’
By passing this bill the legislature has added a very specific set of rules & regulations over an existing one, but what needs to be addressed is the mindset of the prosecutors.
In 2009, years after Coy’s case, one of his prosecutors violated Brady in another case, in an extremely flagrant manner; by hiding the fact that a child accused a black man of assaulting her, when the man she was trying to convict was white. http://www.chron.com/news/houston-texas/article/Harris-prosecutor-accused-of-hiding-evidence-1742910.php
Apparently, Oncken felt that this glaring inconsistency was meaningless; the jury didn't need to see how the child's testimony changed.
It may have been a one-time thing, but I doubt it. You’d have to have brass balls to just wake up one morning and say, “Hey, I think I’ll try something new and make an attempt to screw a potentially innocent man out of any chance of a decent trial in a way so blatant that a state district judge will feel the need to call me on it.”
The one who discovered the omission was Lisa Andrews, who by this time was working as a defense lawyer; back in 2002, she was the other prosecutor in Coy vs. Texas. In my opinion it seems like she knew there was likely to be something squirreled away by Oncken because she used to work with her.
Slapping down a fresh reiteration of why people should behave decently doesn’t inspire confidence that we’ve fixed the problem. It smacks of a parent telling their child, “Don’t steal the cookies.”
And then, “Don’t steal the cookies at Grandma’s house.”
And then, “Don’t steal the cookies at the store.”
When Hellion, Jr. starts knocking over his classmates for their cookies, the problem is not that we haven’t created a rule that states he is not allowed to steal cookies at school. The problem is that, deep in his heart, he’s a thieving little bastard who doesn’t care how his actions affect others. That’s what has to be changed; the assumption that the government, represented by prosecutors, police officers, and judges, is entitled to do whatever it needs to do to get the outcome it desires.