The Texas Senate approved SB 1611 today, also known as the Michael Morton Act.
The bill would give defense attorneys access to evidence held by prosecutors. Texas is one of a few states to not have a statewide open file policy, though district attorneys in some Texas counties have practiced a form of open file policy.
Earlier this week, the fate of the bill, authored by Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, and Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, was threatened by challenges from Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Southside Place. Huffman and some prosecutors throughout the state wanted restrictions that would limit defense attorneys’ ability to share case information with third parties.
Michael Morton was wrongfully convicted in 1987 of murdering his wife and spent nearly 25 years in prison. He was released in 2011 when DNA evidence exonerated him. Morton has since lobbied for the bill, which he hopes would prevent others from experiencing the injustice he faced. During his trial, key evidence was not disclosed to Morton and his attorney Bill White, which he believes would have cleared his name in the murder trial.
A court of inquiry was held in February to determine whether Morton's then prosecutor Ken Anderson will face criminal action for withholding evidence. That decision is expected within the month.
The House will vote on the bill next.