Texas has long harbored a reputation as a tough justice state with a penchant for hefty prison sentences and a notorious proclivity for capital punishment. But this weekend, the New York Times editorial board heaped praises on the Lone Star State for its attention to criminal justice reform, as most recently seen in a freshly passed anti-snitch bill.
"Prosecutors love jailhouse informants who can provide damning testimony that a cellmate privately confessed to a crime," the Times wrote.
And, although it may be a prison adage that "snitches get stitches," it's also true that they sometimes get time cut off their sentences.
"Jailhouse informants, in turn, love the perks they get in exchange for snitching, like shortened sentences, immunity from
prosecution or a wad of cash," the Times continued.
Exonerations in the U.S. reach new level, with Texas leading the pack
But false testimony from jailhouse snitches can have tremendous consequences; it's been the number one reason for death row exonerations in recent years. In Texas, one of the state's signature exoneree cases - that of Anthony Graves, a former death row inmate once accused of murdering six people - hinged on false testimony and withheld evidence.
"Last month, Texas, which has been a minefield of wrongful convictions — more than 300 in the last 30 years alone — passed the most comprehensive effort yet to rein in the dangers of transactional snitching," the Times noted. The new measure stems from the work of a 2015 commission aimed at reducing the odds of wrongful conviction, and it requires prosecutors to tell the defense about informant's criminal history, any perks they've been awarded and other information that could call into question their credibility.
But - here's where Texas gets to bask a bit in its own glory - the editorial board lauded the state's progress in recent years when it comes to righting the wrongs of a troubled justice system:
Texas has become a national leader in criminal-justice reforms, after having long accommodated some of the worst practices and abuses in the nation. The state, particularly in light of past abuses, deserves credit for seeking innovative solutions to problems that have long proved resistant to change.
Of course, it's not all praises and honors; the Times suggests that the new law could go further and that, in a better system, maybe it wouldn't have been necessary to begin with. But that's not just Texas's fault.
"The deeper fix that's needed is a cultural one. Many prosecutors are far too willing to present testimony from people they would never trust under ordinary circumstances," the Times wrote. "Until prosecutors are more concerned with doing justice than with winning convictions, even the most well-intentioned laws will fall short."
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