[JURIST] A Texas Court of Criminal Appeals judge announced [press release, DOC] Wednesday the creation of an oversight committee designed to increase the effectiveness of the state criminal-justice system and to ensure its procedures are both reasonable and legal. Judge Barbara Hervey
[official profile] said that the Texas Criminal Justice Integrity Unit would help reform the state's criminal justice system, which has the highest execution rate among the states [AP report] and the most exonerations by DNA evidence. The Unit aims to improve interrogation, investigation and prosecution procedures; increase attorney quality and accountability; and provide adequate compensation to the wrongly-convicted. Executions were not specifically mentioned, and Hervey stressed that the integrity unit will help reform all areas of the justice system, not just those that are the most troubling to the public. Unit meetings may start as early as next month. AP has more. The Houston Chronicle has local coverage.
According to the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC) [advocacy website] there were 42 executions in the US last year, 26 of which took place in Texas. There have been 405 executions in Texas since 1976, when the death penalty was reinstated. In the US, the Supreme Court has agreed to consider whether the lethal injection procedure [DPIC backgrounder] now used in most states meets the constitutional test for cruel and unusual punishment. Until the Supreme Court ruling in Baze v. Rees (07-5439) [docket; JURIST report], expected before the Court adjourns for the term this month, courts have stayed executions from taking place in several states, including Texas, Arizona, Nevada, Virginia, Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida [JURIST reports].