Innocence Program: The Need Addressed

In 2005 the Texas Legislature directed the Commission to contract with the four public law schools in Texas to operate innocence projects. These projects organize law students who work with attorneys to review claims of actual innocence from Texas inmates.

Because the costs of wrongful conviction are so high, and the injustice of imprisoning the innocent is so fundamental, Texas has supported innocence projects as a critical failsafe for our criminal justice system. Texas has exonerated more wrongfully convicted inmates with DNA evidence than any other state. To date, 44 Texas inmates have been released based on exculpatory DNA testing and have subsequently had their convictions overturned either in habeas corpus proceedings or by a pardon from the Texas governor. Collectively these persons served more than 650 years in prison for cases originating in 13 Texas counties. A substantial number of others have been cleared in non-DNA cases, including at least 35 others who met strict standards for statutory compensation for wrongful incarceration. According to the Texas Tribune, between 1992 and August 2011 Texas paid more than $42 million to compensate 74 wrongfully convicted Texans.

In addition to the devastating impact of a wrongful conviction on an innocent person and his or her family, such errors also undermine public safety by allowing the true perpetrator to remain free. In many of the exoneration cases the same investigation that uncovered the wrongful conviction also identified the actual perpetrators. Finally, innocence projects also uncover important information on shortcomings in the system that lead to erroneous convictions, providing policymakers with the opportunity to learn from mistakes and enhance the accuracy of the criminal justice system.