The Innocence Project of Texas (IPOT) is our encore Human Rights beneficiary for the second quarter of 2013. With more than one-third of all the executions in the United States taking place in Texas since the Supreme Court allowed capital punishment again in 1973, IPOT has been the busiest state affiliate of the national Innocence Project.
IPOT investigates claims of innocence and seeks to overturn wrongful convictions, especially through the use of DNA evidence. Since 1989, more than 300 people have been exonerated due to DNA evidence nationwide, 49 of them in Texas alone. Seventy percent of these exonerees were racial minorities.
Eighty percent of them were convicted on the basis of faulty eyewitness testimony, and many more were convicted due to false informant testimony. Many more are convicted as a result of faulty or untested forensic evidence like bite mark analysis, or by forensic tests that are usually reliable but were conducted by technicians who did not follow proper protocols. Perhaps most surprisingly, a full 25 percent of those confirmed to be innocent by DNA evidence had confessed to those crimes. Experts attribute this to a number of dishonest and abusive practices during police interrogations.
But since DNA evidence only exists in a small percentage of all criminal cases, those same conventional types of evidence are used to convict people every day. That’s why IPOT, through affiliates at law schools at the major universities in Texas, put a great deal of effort into examining the trial records of those who have been convicted but maintained their innocence, interviewing witnesses and investigators and looking for inconsistencies that suggest a wrongful conviction.
Half of the DNA exonerations in Texas have taken place in Dallas County, which is not by accident. Craig Watkins, the Dallas County District Attorney, is the only prosecutor in the state (and one of very few in the nation) to establish a Conviction Integrity Unit to look for wrongful convictions that may have taken place in his district. His office has worked with IPOT to investigate hundreds of cases in Dallas County in which inmates were denied access to DNA for post-conviction testing.
FBB is proud to support the Innocence Project of Texas in securing justice for those who have been wrongfully convicted.