Do DNA Exonerations Have an Effect on Conviction Rates in Texas?

Posted on June 8, 2012 at 9:31am by

Experts are saying that recent criminal exonerations are reducing the death sentences handed down by juries in Texas, according to The last time a person was sentenced to death in Bexar County was 2009, when one defendant was given the death penalty. Between 1995 and 2006, Bexar County juries sentenced 24 persons to death.

“We don’t go get the death penalty just because we can,” First Assistant District Attorney Cliff Herberg told the Express-News. “It’s a very serious decision-making process.”

According to opinion polls in Texas, the public is still in favor of the death penalty but less often when life in prison is an alternative. This could be an indication that the public is more apprehensive due to recent exonerations rather than moving away from capital punishment in general. Courts have granted more appeals in Texas than in the past as well to persons convicted of crimes, especially those on death row.

“I think you do see the courts are saying, no matter what, let’s test it,” said Herberg.

It is great that the courts and judges are reacting to the recent DNA exonerations; it indicates that these are having a positive effect on the justice system. DNA evidence has exonerated more than 280 wrongfully convicted persons nationally since 2000—17 were on death row. According to the National Registry of Exonerations, at least 890 inmates (and possibly more than 2000) have been wrongfully convicted since 1989.

“The courts are more cautious and most people think they should be, there is no question about it,” says Professor John Blume of the Cornell University Law School.

Law Office of Christine Harris—Dallas criminal defense attorney.

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