A candid discussion in the June issue of Texas Monthly on the subject of wrongful conviction here engaged key players in Texas criminal justice, and included an exploration of options available to reduce government misconduct, a troubling contributor to many wrongful convictions. Of special note, these came from those within the system who are troubled by colleagues who have not followed the rules or the ethical spirit of the law.
Kelly Siegler, a special prosecutor who lives in Houston said, “…introduce a law that says when a prosecutor commits a crime like tampering with evidence, tampering with a witness, or official oppression…there is no statute of limitations.”
Art Acevedo, Chief of the Austin Police Department since 2007, agreed. “The statute should start running on the day that we discover that misconduct. People should know that they’ll have to look over their shoulders for the rest of their lives.”
“It drives me nuts that I have 180 days [from the time of misconduct to discipline a police officer],” he added. “That’s all I have. One hundred and eighty days. That’s nothing. There should not be a statute of limitations when it comes to violating the public trust. And cops will hate me for saying that. Prosecutors will hate me for saying that. But in a democracy, if our criminal justice system doesn’t work, we are in deep trouble. And it starts with those consequences.”
While support for immunity for prosecutors from frivolous lawsuits remains, prosecutors and police are joining ranks with those who believe governmental immunity is never absolute in the face of intentional misconduct.
The evolution in opinion on government misconduct in Texas comes in the wake of the state’s high number of exonerations and could be a precursor for similar thinking in other states.