The report from the National Registry of Exonerations says a record 94 of last year’s 166 total exonerations were drug cases. And 48 of those were in Harris County. Tom Berg is with the District Attorney’s Office.
“In many cases where there’d been a guilty plea before the controlled substance had been analyzed, sometimes the results came back inconsistent with the guilt. And in those cases, we ended up with exonerations.”
Harris County handles roughly 110,000 cases per year, so 48 is a relatively small number — unless you’re one of those jailed.
“There could have very well been circumstances where people plead guilty to get out of jail before the drug results were back. And had they been able to hang out longer, those results would have exonerated them.”
The district attorney’s office and Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez agree that the bail system needs to be reformed. Melissa Hamilton is with the University of Houston Law Center.
“If somebody can’t bail out, then the pressure on them to plead guilty may be enormous. Allowing more individuals out could be a potential corrector for not only for the drug cases but other cases in which individuals be able to get out to make a living.”
Texas had the most exonerations last year with 58. Illinois was second with 16.