A record number of people wrongly convicted of crimes were exonerated in 2015, with 42 wrongful convictions in Harris County drug cases boosting the nationwide tally to 149, according to the National Registry of Exonerations' annual report.
The report shows that most exonerations, 105, were in homicide and drug cases. Texas led in overall exonerations with 54, followed in distant second by New York with 17. Last year's record barely exceeds the 139 exonerations documented in 2014.
The Texas exonerations — defined as when someone is cleared of a crime or set free by a government official or body — were for crimes committed as far back as 2004, the report found. Texas counties with exonerations were:
- Bexar County – 1 sexual assault case, 1 assault case
- Cherokee County – 1 sex offender registration case
- Galveston County – 2 drug possession or sale cases
- Harris County – 42 drug possession or sale cases, 1 murder case
- Hidalgo County – 1 burglary/unlawful entry case
- Lavaca County – 1 robbery case
- Montgomery County – 2 drug possession or sale cases
- Nueces County – 1 murder case
- Sabine County – 1 sex offender registration case
Conviction integrity units in district attorney's offices made a difference, especially in Harris County, according to the report. The conviction review section in the Harris County District Attorney's Office identified 42 of the 47 wrongful drug convictions recorded for the entire country last year.
There were 24 conviction integrity units in the country last year, and they identified 58 wrongful convictions overall in 2015. The units realized 151 exonerations between 2003 and 2015, according to the report.
The registry has recorded more than 1,700 exonerations since 1989.
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://www.texastribune.org/2016/02/03/report-harris-county-helped-texas-lead-2015-exoner/.