Michael Morton Act makes big changes in Texas Law

The Michael Morton Act will change the length of the procedure and quality of representation defendants receive. The Legislature created this law to protect criminal defendants from miscarriages of justice.

Prosecutors in Williamson County, Texas charged Morton with the 1986 murder of his wife. Morton’s three year old son witnessed the murder. Prior to trial, Morton’s son told his grandmother that a monster killed his mother. The child also described the crime in great detail. Further stating that, his father was not home. Someone used Christine Morton’s credit card after the murder.

At trial, prosecutors did not turn over all evidence that may have shown Morton’s innocence. This evidence included the original investigation notes. The State did not admit any evidence tying Morton to the crime. At the end of the trial, Morton received a life sentence in 1987. In 2005, two attorneys for Morton requested DNA testing for a bandana that was found near the crime scene. After appealing the issue, the Court of Appeals ordered the state turn over the bandana for testing. The test revealed the DNA belonged to an offender responsible for a similar murder. Also, during these proceedings, the original investigation notes from the police. In 2011, a judge exonerated Morton.

What does the Michael Morton Act Do? Beginning on January 1, 2014, the Michael Morton act requires that prosecutors turn over all reports, documents, papers, and statements of witnesses including police officers. There are only limited exceptions to this duty. Also, defense attorneys must tell the court each piece of evidence they received under the Michael Morton Act prior to their clients entering a plea of guilty or no contest. The Michael Morton Act will ensure that each defendant receive evidence that will help his or her defense.

The lesson from Michael Morton’s case is to be wary about the attorney you choose. Michael Morton was lucky because his trial attorneys preserved the evidence issues for appeal. Although he spent a tragically long period of time in prison, the actions of these attorneys helped ensure his release.

For more information about Michael Morton’s Case, click here.

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