Texas was one of the few states in the country that required defendants to show ‘good cause’ before getting access to evidence that might prove their innocence. Enter Michael Morton, a man who spent 25 years in prison for the murder of his wife because prosecutors were not required to share with the defense evidence that likely would have exonerated him. Struck by the horrible injustice of what happened to Morton, Democratic State Senator Rodney Ellis and Republican State Senator Robert Duncan introduced the Michael Morton Act to create a uniform, statutory “open file” criminal discovery policy for the State of Texas. Governor Rick Perry (R) signed the bill into law on May 16, 2013.
Governor Rick Perry signed the Michael Morton Act into law in May 2013
Putting People First
Senators Ellis and Duncan worked with the Governor’s office, Michael Morton, and various advocacy groups to develop a proposal to bring Texas’ discovery process in line with that of the federal government and virtually every other state in the country.
Senator Ellis said of the act, “The Michael Morton Act is an example of how government should work,” said Ellis. “A major malfunction of government was discovered and lawmakers from both sides of the aisle, legal and criminal justice advocates, law enforcement and more got together to craft a solution that will work. It has become too rare in government these days, but the Michael Morton Act demonstrates that real solutions to real problems can be achieved when politics is put aside and policy is put first.”
“The Michael Morton Act is the result of a true bipartisan effort to improve our criminal justice system,” Sen. Duncan said. “Sen. Ellis and I have worked together in the past on major reforms and our success is evidence that important issues can transcend partisan politics.”
There is much Washington decision-makers can learn from their state and local counterparts. The 50 State Solutions series offers examples of bipartisan leadership in the states with the hope that some of it will rub off on our D.C. representatives, and provide examples for Washington to follow. Please suggest examples in your own community of state and local officials from both parties working together to get things done for you. Use the hashtag #50StateSolutions on Twitter.