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Texas criminal code up for revision

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Amarillo, TX -- Criminal procedure in Texas is inefficient and convoluted, according to some state lawmakers.  So now legislators are planning a total overhaul of the code from top to bottom.

The Texas Code of Criminal Procedure was established in 1865, and has been amended every two years since 1961, making for an exceedingly complex document. 

Earlier this week, House Speaker Joe Straus created a committee tasked with reviewing criminal procedure in Texas and recommending revisions in the name of efficiency.   The House Select Committee on Criminal Procedure Reform plans to comb through the code in its entirety and make recommendations to revise and simplify it.

"I'm all for a review process that honestly looks at whether the individual who was convicted received a fair trial or not," says Randall County District Attorney James Farren.  "And if he or she didn't, let's re-try the case; that's fine - but it shouldn't take 10, 15, 20 years to do that."

Some defense attorneys are concerned that paring down the code itself could in turn pare down civil rights, as Jeff Blackburn of the Innocence Project of Texas argues, "Streamlining is not the answer when we've got a system as deeply flawed as ours is. We don't have a system that's good enough to justify cutting people off from having their cases re-heard."

The formation of the committee comes on the heels of a proposed piece of legislation that would simplify the appeals process in cases where science has changed since the conviction.

"There are a lot of people in prison right now who were put there because of faulty and flawed so-called scientific testimony," contends Blackburn.  "But now we believe that if they got a new hearing and a new trial, they would be acquitted."

Prosecutors say adding more law isn't the answer, as Farren says, "I would love to see a system that reviews our trials, our litigation, in a more efficient way - it takes less time to do it. But to suggest that we need whole new laws just because of changes in science, I think is fixing something that's not broken."

Legislators expect a total rewrite of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure to take about two years.

If you'd like a little more perspective, or to learn more about the new committee, follow the links attached to this story.

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