Thousands of prisoners have been exonerated in recent years for wrongful convictions, amounting to almost 25,000 lost years behind bars. Texas leads the nation on exonerations.
In 2019, the most recent year figures are available for, Texas had the joint second highest number of exonerations in the country. However, the state leads the table of total exonerations since 1989.
The Innocence Project reported 143 exonerations in 2019. The exonerees spent a cumulative 1,908 behind bars for crimes they did not commit. The 2019 report blamed mistaken witness identification, official misconduct, and false confessions for the miscarriages of justice. Exonerations were given in 34 states in 2019.
Illinois had the highest number of exonerations in the country in 2019. The Innocence Project reported 30. Nearly half of those wrongful convictions were attributed to a group of corrupt police officers in Chicago who framed defendants for drug crimes, the Innocence Project noted.
Texas recorded 15 exonerations, the joint second-highest number. They include Innocence Project clients Steven Mark Chaney and Stanley Mozee.
Chaney’s murder conviction more than three decades ago was based on the testimony of two forensic dentists who “matched” Chaney to a supposed bite mark on the arm of the victim.
Bite mark evidence was widely used in criminal cases in the past. It has been discredited as ‘junk science’ in recent years. In declaring Chaney “actually innocent,” the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals cited the 2009 National Forensic Science report that invalidated the use of bite mark analysis in Chaney’s conviction and concluded that such testimony would not be admissible evidence today.
Mozee and Dennis Lee Allen served 15 years in prison for the murder of a store owner and lay minister in Dallas County in 1999. No physical evidence linked them to the crime scene.
The two men were found to be factually innocent based in 2019 on new DNA testing excluding them from important evidence at the crime scene. A judge found that their joint convictions were based on an unreliable jailhouse informant testimony, a false confession, and prosecutorial misconduct.
Pennsylvania also recorded 15 exonerations in 2019. The number was a record for the state. The Innocence Project noted, Pennsylvania still does not offer compensation to people who have been wrongly convicted.
The innocence Project has recorded 390 exonerations in Texas since it set up its national registry in 1989. That equates to 2,196 years lost, an average of 5.63 years lost per prisoner.
In the past, issues with drug testing in Texas have pushed up the exoneration rate. Harris County suffered a huge drug testing backlog six years ago. When drug test results were returned, many defendants who had been convicted in the Houston area were found to be innocent.
The exoneration figures show the obstacles many defendants face in fighting for justice. Junk science, prosecutorial misconduct, false witness statements, and coerced confessions all lead to miscarriages of justice in Texas. It is important to hire an experienced criminal defense lawyer to fight on your behalf. Call us at (214) 720-9552.