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New Texas Criminal Evidence Law Raises Concerns

The Michael Morton Act seeks to improve transparency in criminal case evidence in order to reduce the number of wrongful convictions in the state.  But since the new law was implemented, both prosecutors and experienced Austin criminal defense attorneys have raised concerns that the law’s requirements don’t support its good intentions.

Attorneys who practice criminal law have praised the act – named after an Austin, Texas resident who spent nearly 25 years behind bars for a murder he did not commit – for underlining the importance of sharing evidence so that defense attorneys can protect their clients rigorously.  In 1963, the U.S. Supreme Court held in Brady v. Maryland that prosecutors must share “exculpatory” evidence, or evidence that suggests the defendant might be innocent.

Until recently, prosecutors in Texas were responsible for deciding what evidence counted as “exculpatory.”  The Michael Morton Act, however, requires them to turn over all exculpatory evidence.  In some cases, this means prosecutor’s offices must do a lot of copying, storing, and delivering of documents, videotapes, and other items – costs that some prosecutors have described as steep.

Although the new law helps defense attorneys ensure they address all possible avenues for seeking the best possible outcome in a client’s case, some defense attorneys are concerned that the law might have the opposite of its intended effect.  For instance, the law may prevent defense attorneys from disclosing vital information to their clients and consequently make it more difficult to provide effective counsel.

The hardworking Austin criminal defense attorneys at Peek & Toland, L.L.P. stay abreast of new developments in criminal law. If you have any questions regarding your own specific case, call us today at (512) 474-4445.

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