Exonerations in Texas

Posted By The Alband Law Firm || 30-Jun-2016

In 2014, the total prison population in Texas at the end of the year was 158,589.[1] That is nearly 0.6 percent of the total population.[2] That is a ridiculous number. Texas not only led the way in prison population in 2014,[3] they also led in exonerations with 39; 33 of which came from drug related cases in Harris County. Texas had more than double the exonerations of any other state in 2014.[4]

One of the reasons the number of exonerations is so high is due to both the Dallas Conviction Integrity Unit and the Harris County CIU. Although the Dallas Unit had no exonerations in 2014, it is the longest existing CIU, created in 2007.[5] The Harris County CIU contributed to 29 of the 33 exonerations in Harris County in 2014, cases in which the defendant pled guilty even when there were no illegal drugs.[6] This new support of looking back at prior convictions and using DNA evidence or other means to exonerate people falsely convicted is refreshing, and a big step in the right direction for a country has the largest population of prisoners on the planet.[7]

Because these Conviction Integrity Units work in conjunction with District Attorneys, it is easier to have cooperation from prosecutors and law enforcement on the original crime. This makes for an easier investigative process, while still seeking to administer justice as well as determine how the system can be improved in the future.[8] After all, the point of CIUs is not only to exonerate wrongly convicted people, but it is also to help develop the best practices for prosecutors so as to avoid convicting innocent people and instead attempt to do justice in each situation.

There are now 24 CIUs spread throughout the country and in 2015, they were responsible for 39 percent of overturned wrongful convictions.[9] The problem extends out of Texas, but Texas had the first of these units and now leads the country with 5 different counties having a CIU.[10] While the problem of wrongful convictions has definitely not been solved, the attention that it has received in the past few years has led to more people being exonerated than ever before. This shows that while progress may be slow, at least there is progress.

[1] E. Ann Carson, “Prisoners in 2014,” U.S. Department of Justice, September 2015, 33.

[2] “Population Data (Projections) for Texas Counties, 2014,” Government, Texas Department of State Health Services, accessed June 29, 2016, http://www.dshs.texas.gov/chs/popdat/ST2014.shtm.

[3] Carson, “Prisoners in 2014.”

[4] The National Registry of Exonerations, “Exonerations in 2014,” Education, Michigan Law, (January 27, 2015), http://www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/Documents/Exonerations_in_2014_report.pdf.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] “Highest to Lowest - Prison Population Total,” World Prison Brief, accessed June 30, 2016, http://www.prisonstudies.org/highest-to-lowest/prison-population-total?field_region_taxonomy_tid=All.

[8] “Conviction Integrity,” Tarrant County, Texas, accessed June 30, 2016, http://access.tarrantcounty.com/en/criminal-district-attorney/criminal-division/ConvictionIntegrity.html?linklocation=Areas%20of%20Responsibility&linkname=Conviction%20Integrity.

[9] Noah Fromson, “Conviction Integrity Units Expand Beyond Lone Star State Roots,” The Texas Tribune, March 12, 2016, https://www.texastribune.org/2016/03/12/conviction-integrity-units-expand-beyond-texas-roo/.

[10] Ibid.

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