Craig Watkins's Legislative Wish List

On the other side is a lengthy missive we just received from the Dallas County District Attorney's Office in which Craig Watkins outlines his to-do list for the new Legislative session. But you can probably guess what's top-of-the-pops with a D.A. seeking criminal system reforms: eyewitness identification reform, especially following the DNA exoneration of Cornelius Dupree Jr. last week after he served 30 years in prison for a crime he didn't commit. But there are other items on the agenda as well. Among them: videotaped confessions and "extending student loan forgiveness to prosecutors." Jump for the whole thing.

District Attorney Craig Watkins Proposes Legislation to Reform Criminal Justice System

(DALLAS, TX - January 12, 2011) - During the 2011 Legislative Session, Dallas County District Attorney (DA) Craig Watkins will be proposing new legislation that would reform the criminal justice system throughout the state. The key pieces of legislation Mr. Watkins will be seeking support for include: requiring a DNA sample for every individual who is arrested; reforming the eyewitness identification process; requiring law enforcement to videotape all confessions; establishing standard guidelines for the retention and storage of biological and physical evidence; and extending student loan forgiveness to prosecutors.

"One of the recurring issues we have seen in several of the exoneration cases is faulty eyewitness identification," said Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins. "Historically, law enforcement agencies throughout Dallas County and around the state have followed their own procedures for conducting eyewitness interviews and photo line-ups. The largest agency in our jurisdiction now uses the double-blind system, where the officer presenting the photo line-up is not the investigating officer on the case and therefore has no idea who the suspect is or whether the suspect's photo is even among the photos being presented to the eyewitness. If we are successful getting this piece of legislation passed, the double-blind system would be the standard by which all law enforcement agencies present line-ups, thereby ensuring more reliable and untainted eyewitness identifications."

In addition to eyewitness identification reform, Mr. Watkins is also proposing new legislation that would require a DNA sample be taken for identification purposes, just like fingerprints, for every individual who is arrested. The collection of a DNA sample involves a simple swab on the inside of an individual's cheek. A similar provision already exists in the juvenile code allowing for the procurement of DNA from juveniles who are arrested/adjudicated (usually applies to sex offenses).

Another proposal is requiring law enforcement to videotape all confessions. While there is a provision in Art. 38.22 (b) of the Code of Criminal Procedure allowing for the recording of the statement of an accused individual, DA Watkins would like to see that provision expanded by requiring it to be mandatory that confessions given to police agencies be videotaped. The added benefit of having confessions videotaped is that it would alleviate any discrepancies between law enforcement and the accused.

The other two pieces of legislation DA Watkins will be proposing during this Legislative Session are developing a standard for the retention and storage of biological and physical evidence and extending student loan forgiveness to prosecutors. Over the past several years with all of the exonerations and the work of the various Innocence Projects, it has become evident that each crime lab in the state follows its individual policies as it pertains to retaining and storing its biological and physical evidence. Things that should be standardized are the length of storage, manner of storage, archival system and process to retrieve the evidence when it is needed. A state-approved guideline for how evidence is kept, regardless of jurisdiction, would give reliability, credibility and integrity to the process of evidence retention.

Finally, to encourage recent law graduates to work in their communities as public servants, DA Watkins would like to see funding for the provision in the education code that gives prosecutors relief from school loans in exchange for a commitment to work in public service at a district attorney's/county attorney's office.

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky