Texas Exonerations Are Again the Highest in the Nation

By Peek & Toland on August 17, 2017

Texas exonerations were again the highest in the nation last year. In many cases, defendants were convicted of a crime that didn’t happen.

A report issued earlier this year found the number of people exonerated in the United States rose again in 2016.

Texas exonerations were higher than any other state. Drug cases in Harris County accounted for a large proportion of these wrongful convictions.

why Texas exonerations are highest in nation

Texas exonerations lead the nation

A record 94 of 2016’s 166 total exonerations involved cases in which no crime was committed, reported the Associated Press.

The annual report from the National Registry of Exonerations makes disturbing reading for our criminal defense attorneys.

Approximately, two-thirds of the 94 cases in which convictions were given when no crime was committed were drug cases. A further 16 were for sex crimes and one was a homicide.

The report said 48 of the drug cases in which no crime was committed occurred in Harris County. Defendants had their drug convictions dismissed. Lab tests later determined they never had illegal substances.

University of Michigan law professor Samuel Gross, who edits the report, said more exonerations are not a sign the problems that result in false convictions are being addressed and resolved.

The number of wrongful convictions highlighted in the report is increasing year-on-year.

The previous record of 160 exoneration was set in 2015, according to the National Registry.

It recorded 1,994 known exonerations in the nation from 1989 to February 26, 2017. Since 2011, the annual number of exonerations more than doubled.

“We now average more than three exonerations a week,” stated the report.

Why Texas Exonerations Are the Highest in the Nation

Alarmingly, were it not for an investigative media report, the problem in Harris County may have gone undetected and hundreds of drug offenders would not have been cleared.

A report on NBC stated the issue in Harris County was uncovered in 2014 when a newspaper reporter asked about delays in drug lab tests whose results were being returned after people pleaded guilty.

The head of Harris County’s new Conviction Review Section investigated the issue. She found many of the tests revealed no drugs were found. The unit changed its process to move guilty-plea cases more quickly and sought out defendants who had been wrongly convicted.

The NBC report stated 126 drug-crime exonerations were found including 48 in 2016. More are likely to be uncovered.

The National Registry of Exonerations also highlights race in its report. Harris County, dominated by the city of Houston, is about a fifth African-American.

However, 62 percent of the drug crime exonerees were black – about seven times the exoneration rate for other racial groups.

What happened in Harris County may be going on undetected in other places. Call our experienced Texas criminal defense lawyers at (512) 474-4445. 


Posted in Criminal Defense, Drug Crimes

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Texas Court Exonerates the San Antonio Four of Child Sex Assault

By Peek & Toland on February 17, 2017

Texas has a high rate for exonerations as miscarriages of justice going back decades are addressed. In a high-profile case in November, the so-called “San Antonio Four” were cleared.

The Court of Criminal Appeals ruled the convictions of the four women failed the “smell test.”

According to AOL.com, they were convicted due to junk science, tainted testimony and misinformation over lesbian behavior.

The state’s highest criminal court ruled Elizabeth Ramirez, Kristie Mayhugh, Cassandra Rivera and Anna Vasquez were innocent of child sex assault crimes. Their criminal records will be expunged and they will be able to seek millions of dollars in compensation from the state of Texas.

The San Antonio Four were exonerated

The four women were convicted of the crimes more than 15 years ago in 1998. They were accused by two of Ramirez’s nieces, aged 7 and 9.

The nieces claimed the four women sexually assaulted them after restraining them by the wrists and ankles in 1994 at Ramirez’s apartment.

The conviction was undermined after one of the nieces later said the crimes had not occurred and a family member threatened her into making the statements. Ramirez said she had turned down a marriage proposal from the nieces’ father before the allegations were made.

The AOL report stated testimony by pediatrician Nancy Kellogg, an expert witness used by the state, came under fire.

Kellogg told the jury there were physical injuries inflicted upon the girls which were consistent with satanic rituals prevalent among some lesbians.

Kellogg later retracted her testimony. She agreed with the defense team claims that there were no signs of physical abuse, the appeals court stated.

We have previously noted how expert witnesses have been discredited in Texas, in particular, Dr. James Grigson, who was nicknamed “Dr. Death” due to a large number of defendants who ended up on death row due to his testimony.

The San Antonio Four Spent 15 Years in Jail

The case of the San Antonio Four became one of the most talked about legal battles in recent years in Texas. It also may prove to be one of the most costly for the state.

They four women had recently come out as lesbians. Prosecutors used their sexuality as a motive for the alleged crimes. The women refused plea deals before the trial and testified in their own defense.

Ramirez was jailed for 37 years, while the other three women received 15-year sentences. Vasquez was paroled four years ago, and the other three women were released in 2013 after legal challenges were filed about Kellogg’s testimony.

Judge David Newell wrote in the majority opinion at the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals hearing that the women were innocent. He stated:

“Those defendants have won the right to proclaim to the citizens of Texas that they did not commit a crime. That they are innocent. That they deserve to be exonerated.”

The case of the San Antonio Four highlights how you can be convicted of a crime when there is scant little evidence in Texas. While child abuse cases shock communities, young witnesses can be impressionable and make false claims.

If you have been charged with a sex crime, it’s vital that you hire experienced legal representation. At Peek & Toland we offer vigorous representation in criminal appeals. Contact our Texas criminal defense lawyers here.

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Five Major Miscarriages of Justice in Texas

By Peek & Toland on September 19, 2016

Exonerations reached a record level in the United States for the second year in a row in 2015, with Texas again leading the way for miscarriages of justice.

The Houston Chronicle reported more than one in four exonerations were from drug convictions in Harris County.

Five high profile miscarriages of justice in Texas

The University of Michigan Law School’s National Registry of Exonerations noted there were 149 last year, including 58 for homicide offenses.

Texas has had some of the highest profile miscarriages of justice in the country. Here are five of the worst.

Miscarriages of Justice – Five of the Worst

James Waller

Exoneration came for James Waller in 2007 at the age of 50. He was convicted of a crime almost 25 years earlier in 2005 when rape was committed against a 12-year-old boy who was living in his apartment.

The victim had been the main witnesses against him. Waller was exonerated by a judge after a new type of DNA testing on semen and hair had shown he did not commit the crime.

Waller had been out of jail on parole since 1993. He described the fight for justice as a “long, horrible road.”

Associated Press reported how Dallas County at the time of Waller’s exoneration had recorded more of these miscarriages of justice than the whole of California.

Kerry Max Cook

Cook spent 20 years on Texas’ death row before he was released. He was convicted of the rape and murder of Linda Jo Edwards in Tyler in 1977, but his conviction was overturned. He had a second trial that ended in a hung jury before a third resulted in the conviction being again overturned after a court found it discredited by prosecutorial misconduct.

Notwithstanding three previous trials, Smith County moved to try Cook for the fourth time. He agreed to a plea deal in 1999. He pleaded no contest and was set free from jail. Later DNA testing revealed traces of another man on the clothes of the victim. Cook later wrote a book about his wrongful conviction.

Technically, Cook remains a convicted murderer because he was not exonerated. He said it’s impossible to live a normal life.

Michael Morton

Michael Morton became the poster child for miscarriages of justice in Texas and even had new legislation named after him following his high-profile exoneration.

After spending 25 years in prison for the murder of his wife, despite any evidence linking him to the crime, he was released on October 4, 2011, and exonerated two months later. DNA evidence later linked the killing of Morton’s wife to another murder two years later.

The Michael Morton Act that came into effect at the start of 2014 ushered in a new era of discovery rules for prosecutors.

James Curtis Williams and Raymond Jackson

James Curtis Williams and Raymond Jackson, two black men, received life sentences in the 1980s. They were convicted of raping and pistol whipping a white woman in Dallas in 1984.

Jackson was paroled in 2010, followed by Williams in 2011. Subsequent DNA testing found that neither man committed the rape. It also found a DNA hit to two other men incarcerated on unrelated charges. Williams and Jackson were exonerated in 2012 and received compensation.

Anthony Massingill

Anthony Massingill was convicted of aggravated robbery and aggravated rape in 1980. He served more than three decades in jail before being finally exonerated on October 17, 2014. His conviction was based on the flimsy evidence of an eyewitness who misidentified him. Incorrect identifications and the testimonies of children are common factors in miscarriages of justice in Texas.

Our legal team at Peek & Toland , provides criminal defense for crimes of murder committed in the state of Texas, as well as rape and other serious offenses.

We are well aware of some of the grave miscarriages of justice that have occurred in Texas in the past. Not only does Texas execute the most people in the country, but it has the most exonerations. Call us today at (512) 474-4445 if you have been charged with a serious crime.

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