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After Channel 2 investigation, senators aim to change law used to jail witnesses

Current law allows witnesses to be jailed to ensure testimony

HOUSTON – Two state senators have pledged to review and change state law, following a Channel 2 Investigation into a mentally ill rape victim who was thrown in jail because prosecutors wanted to make sure she would be available to testify against the man who raped her.

“Come January, I and my colleagues will pass legislation saying if you’re going to use attachment for a witness to make certain they are going to be at the trial, they will have a court appointed attorney,” said State Senator John Whitmire, D-Houston. Whitmire chairs the senate Criminal Justice Committee.

Prosecutors use a legal mechanism called a “writ of attachment” to put witnesses to crimes in jail when prosecutors feel the witness won’t show up to testify.

State Senator Joan Huffman, R-Houston, pledged Friday to work with Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson and Harris County Sheriff Ron Hickman.

"The process of attachment is a rarely used, but is an extremely vital tool for attorneys to ensure the testimony of a witness," Huffman said in a statement. "It should only be used when there is no other way to hear testimony that is critical to public safety, or in the best interest of the public. In the 85th Session, I look forward to working with Sheriff Hickman, DA Anderson, prosecutors, law enforcement, the mental health community and victim advocates to reform the necessary mechanism of attachment, but only in a way that protects the rights of all witnesses."

Whitmire said such attachments are usually used when prosecutors worry a witness will flee to another country.

He sternly said the rape victim profiled by Channel 2, who has only been identified as Jenny, should not have been jailed.

“It shocks your conscious, and anyone who reads about it should be as upset as I am,” he said.

The legislative session begins in January.

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