Texas leads the nation in the number of people who are convicted of crimes and later exonerated, followed by Illinois. In addition to the problems inherent with wrongful convictions, a study has found that African-Americans were much likelier to be wrongfully convicted of drug offenses, sex assaults and murders than were others.
The National Registry of Exonerations examined convictions dating from 1989 to 2016. During that time period, 1,900 defendants were exonerated after being convicted of crimes that they did not commit. Of that number, 47 percent were African-American, a percentage which is three times greater than the percentage of the population that they make up.
Researchers attribute the high rate of wrongful convictions of African-Americans to a combination of official misconduct and racial bias. In 2016, 166 people were exonerated nationwide while Texas accounted for 60 of the cases during that year alone. A majority of the exonerations in Texas came from Harris County and were for drug offenses. In a number of the cases, people were coerced into pleading guilty only to have lab testing later show that the substances were not illegal drugs at all. Texas far outstripped Illinois in its number of exonerations during 2016. While 60 exonerations happened in Texas, Illinois came in second with 16, pointing to a clear need for reform in Texas as well as elsewhere.
A drug charge may carry serious potential penalties, and people who are charged may feel pressured to plead guilty in order to avoid potentially lengthy sentences. People might benefit by getting help from experienced criminal defense attorneys. Lawyers may mount aggressive defense cases to their clients’ charges. They may file motions to challenge the admission of evidence that was wrongfully seized.