The Problem

No human being is perfect. Therefore no system designed by humans can be perfect. And perhaps no system has more human parts than the criminal justice system. We might think that a criminal case is about a search for truth. In reality, it is not about truth. It is about evidence. And more specifically, it is only about the evidence that is presented in the courtroom. Sometimes incorrect or inaccurate evidence pointing to guilt is presented at trial. And sometimes correct and accurate evidence pointing to innocence is not known at the time of the trial and therefore not presented at trial. In the end, mistakes happen.

How do wrongful convictions happen?

Research conducted by wrongful convictions scholar Jon Gould of American University identified several predictors that help explain why an innocent defendant, once indicted, ends up erroneously convicted rather than released. These include:

  • A younger defendant
  • A criminal history
  • A weak prosecution case
  • Prosecution withheld evidence
  • Lying by a non-eyewitness
  • Unintentional witness misidentification
  • Misinterpreting forensic evidence at trial
  • A weak defense
  • Defendant offered a family witness
  • A "punitive" state culture

A qualitative review of the cases in Gould’s research reveals how the statistically significant predictors are connected and exacerbated by tunnel vision, which prevents the system from self-correcting once an error is made. In fact, tunnel vision provides a useful framework for understanding the larger system-wide failure that separates erroneous convictions from near misses.

How many people are wrongfully convicted?

The conservative estimate is 5,640 individuals.

That number would be 4% of the more than 141,000 Texas state prison inmates who have likely been convicted of crimes they did not commit. A recent state study of inmates in a northern state, with an even lower minority population, showed a 6% wrongful conviction rate there, so the number here in Texas could be higher. But 1% or even just one person in prison when they should not be, is what spurs us on to do our important work at IPTX.

How does the Innocence Project of Texas help?

Imagine this. You have been arrested, tried and convicted for a crime you did not commit. If you could not afford a lawyer (the vast majority of criminal defendants are poor) a lawyer was provided for you. But despite your innocence, you were convicted. And now you’re in prison, behind bars, further away from freedom than ever.

And guess what? Now that you have been convicted and tossed in prison (maybe for the rest of your natural born life), you no longer have a right to an attorney. Just when you need one the most.

So you’re in prison. You know you’re innocent. But you can’t prove it from a prison cell. And you don’t have a lawyer. And you can’t afford to pay for a lawyer. That’s about as grim as it gets.

That’s where the Innocence Project of Texas comes in.

The Innocence Project of Texas does the two things you most desperately need. We investigate your case, top to bottom, inside and out and we get your case back into court. We find the facts that prove your innocence. And we take those facts and navigate the complex legal process that leads to your freedom.

If we’re successful (as we have been 26 times so far), the judge in the Texas criminal district court where your case originated will vacate (overturn) your conviction. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals will review and agree with the district court ruling. Finally, the local district attorney will drop all charges. And you will be free to get on with your life.