News Roundup: In 2017, Texas Led The Nation In Exonerations

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By Becky FogelMarch 15, 2018 1:57 pm

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A new report found that Texas led the nation in exonerations last year with 23 total. But nationwide, about 30 fewer wrongly convicted people were released in 2017 than in 2016. And that also has to do with Texas.

Barbara O’Brien is editor of the National Registry of Exonerations, which released the report. She explains that last year’s drop is largely due to a smaller number of exonerations in Harris County. That’s because for the last few years, it’s been working to clear a backlog of wrongful drug possession cases.

“They discovered that there were a number of defendants who had plead guilty to possessing controlled substances. The controlled substances had been sent to the lab,” she says. “The person entered the plea before the lab results ever came back. Turns out they weren’t the suspected controlled substance, but at that point the case had been closed – no one had really been looking at it.”

O’Brien says that when Harris County discovered this it reached out to those defendants and has been working to clear the wrongful convictions.

Ten of the 23 Texas exonerations in 2017 were a result of this effort. O’Brien breaks down some of the other crimes Texans were cleared of last year.

“There were a few child sex abuse exonerations,” she says. “There was a traffic offense, a sexual assault, sex offender registration exoneration.”

O’Brien also points out that year to year fluctuations in the number of exonerations actually tells us very little about how many people are incarcerated for crimes they didn’t commit.

“The bulk of our exonerees were represented by an innocence organization or a conviction integrity unit was involved in the exoneration, because it does take such extraordinary efforts to secure an exoneration,” O’Brien says. “If we had exponentially more innocence organizations and there were more conviction integrity units across the country, I think we would see even more exonerations and no one really knows how many there would be.”

Nationwide, there have been 2,182 exonerations since 1989, totaling over 19,000 years that people have lost behind bars.

Earlier this week, a federal judge has again dismissed a lawsuit against the Irving School District and the city. It was filed by the father of Ahmed Mohamed. In 2015, Mohamed brought a homemade clock to school that was mistaken for a bomb. He was arrested and suspended, but the school later dropped its charge against him for having a “hoax bomb.” Stephanie Kuo, with KERA News, has more on the recent dismissal.

On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Sam Lindsay ordered that the suit against the defendants be “dismissed with prejudice.”

Ahmed Mohamed was 14 at the time of the incident. His lawyers argued he did not pose a legitimate threat when he brought a homemade clock to school. In a statement released Wednesday, the city of Irving said it was pleased with the judge’s order and remains committed to ensuring the safety of Irving residents and schoolchildren.

Out of 242 counties ranked in the state, Denton in North Texas is the healthiest.

That’s according to an annual report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute that looks at counties across the country. The study looks at health factors such as community safety and access to healthcare and health outcomes like length of life.

The least healthy county was Duval in South Texas.