The Senate Criminal Justice Committee will meet at 9 a.m. to discuss two interim charges:
Interim Charge 3See testimony (pdf) from the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition on the indigent defense charge.
Review the performance of the Fair Defense Act and the Task Force on Indigent Defense. Study key outcomes of the law, including: appointment rates in felony and misdemeanor cases; state and county indigent defense expenditures; attorney caseloads; attorney compensation; access to investigators and experts; and overall quality of counsel for the indigent. Examine the Task Force on Indigent Defense's effectiveness in monitoring and enforcing standards and design strategies to improve the delivery of services for indigent defense, including timing of the appointment of counsel, the use of the appointment wheel and the monitoring of workloads and performance of attorneys.
Interim Charge 10
Evaluate the usage of current Texas practices for facilitating the fair and accurate courtroom testimony of children and reducing the trauma associated with testifying, particularly for children who are victims of sexual abuse. Specifically consider recent efforts and trends across the nation to develop best practices, including "court orientation" programs, and ensure that courtrooms are more child friendly and accommodating for young victims to reduce the trauma associated with testifying in court while ensuring that fair and accurate information is solicited from the child as a witness.
Meanwhile, the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee will meet at 10 a.m. to discuss their second interim charge: To "Study how the state presently supports the establishment and maintenance of public defender offices." I'd expect to see some crossover among witnesses at the two hearings. See testimony (pdf) from the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition to House Criminal Jurisprudence.
While indigent defense will get a lot of focus, I'm also interested in the Senate committee's interim charge number 10 regarding child testimony. The charge seems generally aimed at making it easier for child victims to testify, but on the question of "ensuring that fair and accurate information is solicited from the child," given the number of false eyewitness identifications seen throughout the state, perhaps it would behoove the Legislature to consider requiring corroboration in alleged stranger-rape cases where the victim didn't previously know the defendant (which is a small minority of sex-assault cases). Right now, child victims in sex assault cases don't require corroboration to get a conviction, which is how we get situations like with Ricardo Rachell, where two boys falsely accused him despite the fact that his face was terribly disfigured and the real perpetrator - later identified through DNA - was not. I don't want child witnesses to be traumatized by the judicial process, but neither do I want them accusing the wrong person when their testimony alone is legally sufficient to convict.