Number of Exonerations High in Texas
In the last twenty years, Texas has had a total of 363 exonerations granted, the highest total out of any state. Harris County alone accounts for most of those exonerations. The number of exonerations taken from The National Registry of Exonerations relates to drugs, murder, sexual assault, and child sex abuse. Based on the registry, the data demonstrates how Texas has had an increase in their number of exonerations for drugs and sex crimes over time.
Faulty Tests to Blame
In 2017, Time magazine published a page titled "The Wrongly Convicted," which focused on the number of discharged false drug convictions in the U.S, diving into Harris County as one example. Harris County's crime labs were mainly to thank for in these cases. Harris County is currently one of the few counties in the country that assesses drug samples in convictions after the fact. The process has led to discoveries in a lot of the exonerated drug cases. The article exposes the lab tests previously used as evidence in courts as illegitimate, often issuing a high error rate.
The breakthrough constituted the case of Barry Demings who had been convicted of cocaine possession in 2008 and pleaded guilty to avoid the 30 years of prison that threatened him if he didn't. He served six months in jail with a guilty verdict and when he got out had already lost his girlfriend and employment. In 2015, he got exonerated after the criminal lab examined his case's drug samples again, this time testing negative for the drug. There are still almost 100 drug cases within Harris County awaiting reviews like this one.
A Closer Look at Sex Crimes
Other crimes that have seen a high number of exonerations in Texas are sex crimes. Earlier this month, the Houston Chronicle published an article in which the number of wrongful convictions releases in Texas seemed to focus in on child sex abuse cases.
The article analyzed cases like Fran and Dan Keller's who were previously accused of sexually abusing young children inside their daycare center. In 1992, the couple's conviction sentenced them to 48 years in prison. The Kellers were released on bond in 2013, after 21 years in prison, and it wasn't until 2017 that they were fully exonerated.
The Kellers' case also mirrors that of the San Antonio Four whose story was featured as national news in the late 1990s. The original conviction, involving the raping of two girls was finally silenced in 2016 when the four women received their long-overdue exonerations. They had been released on parole in 2013 after 15 years in prison.
The evidence that disproved cases like the Kellers and the San Antonio Four was also based on the reversal of old findings. In the Kellers' case, it had been the rip of one of the victim's hymens that led the court to believe one of the kids had actually been abused. The same doctor who had initially presented the evaluation back in 1992 discredited his analysis years later. He admitted to finding that the same tear he had seen present in the Kellers' victim was also present in other normal, healthy children.
Wrongful Accusations Dangerous
Records of exonerated Texan inmates inside The National Registry of Exonerations show an average of 15.7 years of life per case lost on sexual assault convictions. The average years lost on exonerated murder and child sex abuse convictions follow behind with an average of 11.6 and 11.4 years lost, respectively. However, the punishment for a sex crime does not stop at the prison doors.
Sex offenders are often targeted in prison, which in some cases has led up to death. The ones that complete their sentence or leave on bond like the Kellers spent their lives registered on the sex offenders list. Depending on the type of crime, a sex offender registration can last for several years up to life. Required sex offender registration can impact an ex-convict's housing, employment, and personal life until a miracle of research sets the falsely accused ones free.
The National Registry of Exonerations claims perjury and false accusations are the most common causes seen in all exonerated cases. The most significant contributing factor to a child sex abuse conviction is also perjury and false accusation, as well as official misconduct done by law enforcement, prosecutors, and judges. The third most significant factor, however, is, in fact, false or misleading forensic evidence. As crime lab tests and victim testimonies continue to get revaluated, more wrongful convictions will continue to receive justice, and more individuals will be set free. If you or your loved one is falsely accused of a sex crime, reach over to the Gonzales Law Group for your criminal defense.