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Texas drug cases lead to record number of U.S. exonerations in 2014

A record number of exonerations occurred in the U.S. during 2014 and many of these were tied to Texas drug cases.

In 2014, there were a record number of exonerations that occurred in the U.S., states U.S. News. In a report released by The National Registry of Exonerations, 125 people were wrongly convicted of crimes in 2014, accounting for an increase of 34 more exoneration cases than in 2013. One of the main reasons why there were so many exonerations in 2014 was because of 33 exoneration cases in Texas related to drug crimes. Comparatively, there were only 11 exonerations having to do with drug-related crimes in all of the U.S. during 2013.

Texas was also the state with the most exonerations overall. In 2014, Texas had 39 exonerations while New York came in second with 17 exonerations. Many of these cases were related to sex crimes and homicides, with these crimes making up more than half of the total number of exonerations during 2014 in the U.S.

Why so many exonerations occurred

Many people convicted of drug crimes in Texas were exonerated after lab tests confirmed that they never had illegal substances in 2014. According to U.S. News, in several of these drug cases, the suspected offender would plead guilty to the charges before a lab test was completed.

There are two main reasons why those facing drug charges may have pled guilty instead of waiting for the results of a lab test. First, some of those involved in drug cases could have been wrongly convicted because they thought that they actually had drugs, accepted a plea deal early in the process and just wanted to move on. Second, some facing drug charges may have decided to accept a plea deal in order to avoid higher punishment ranges during a trial because of their past criminal history.

Drug crime penalties in Texas are severe

Those who are incorrectly accused of and convicted of a crime face harsh penalties that often have life-long effects. For example, according to the Texas Controlled Substances Act, if a person is convicted of possessing two ounces or less of a controlled substance that is categorized under penalty group 2-A, he or she may be charged with a Class B misdemeanor. This crime is punishable by a fine of up to $2,000 and the requirement to spend up to 180 days in jail, states the Texas Penal Code.

Those who face charges for possessing drugs or for another crime in Texas may worry about how a possible conviction could affect their employment prospects and standing within their local community. If you were recently arrested for a crime, speak with an attorney to determine what you can do to assert your legal rights.