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How Common Are False Murder Charges?

Posted on March 6, 2024 in

Millions of Americans are imprisoned across the United States. Time spent in jail is often isolating, and demeaning, and deprives prisoners of high-quality food, leisure activities, and even visits with family members or friends. Time in prison is not meant to be enjoyable, but for those who have been falsely accused of murder, it can be emotionally taxing and devastating. Contact a Houston homicide defense attorney for legal counsel.

Even though the United States judicial system may be considered one of the most comprehensive across the globe, false accusations and convictions continue to be a significant cause for concern. While many people may be wrongfully incarcerated, determining how common murder charges are can be challenging.

Estimating the Number of False Murder Accusations

It is nearly impossible to determine exactly how many individuals are convicted on false murder charges. However, some data can support the sheer number of false murder and crime allegations. For example, according to the 2023 Plea Bargain Task Force Report by the American Bar Association, up to 98% of all convictions across the country are a result of plea agreements as opposed to guilty verdicts. As of March 2024, there have been 3,461 exonerations across the country since 1989 according to the National Registry of Exonerations. According to a research article by Samuel Gross and colleagues published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, up to 4% of all defendants sentenced to death are found to have been wrongfully convicted.

A study out of Ohio by James Frank from the University of Cincinnati asked various levels of legal professionals in the judicial space to estimate how many people are wrongfully convicted across the United States. 3/4 of those who responded answered more than 0% but less than 5%. When taking those numbers into account, this would mean out of the 2.3 million people across the country who are imprisoned according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), if even .5% of them are not guilty, there are 11,500 people currently incarcerated for crimes they did not commit.

Every year, there are around 195,000 new convictions across the United States according to the Prison Policy Initiative. If 0.5% of these individuals are innocent, but only 128 people were exonerated in 2023 according to the National Registry of Exonerations, Exonerations by State, which would mean that up to 96% of all convictions, including murder convictions, were falsely accused.

Common Reasons for False Murder Charges

False murder charges can occur for several reasons. According to the Innocence Project of Texas, there are an estimated 9,000 individuals in Texas currently serving time for a wrongful conviction. It is not that the jury wanted to see the defendant convicted, but rather what was presented may not have been accurate. Some of the most common reasons for false murder charges include:

  • Misidentification of the defendant – Since witness misidentification can cost a defendant their freedom, law enforcement officials must recognize when a witness’s testimony may not be reliable.
  • Coerced confessions – Using aggressive investigative methods has been known to lead to wrongful convictions. Texas police officers are required to record interviews with individuals who have been taken into custody for suspicion of certain types of criminal offenses, including capital murder, kidnapping, sexual assault, continuous human trafficking, and more according to the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure Chapter 2. General Duties of Officers.
  • False testimony from jailhouse or drug informants – Informants or “snitches” have an incentive to provide false testimony against the wrongfully accused. By giving their testimony against the defendant, they are often granted leniency or deals with a lesser sentence. Fortunately, Texas law under TCCP Article 38.075 requires jailhouse informant testimony to be corroborated by other supporting evidence.

Restitution For Wrongful Conviction In Texas

Texas does allow for those wrongfully convicted of murder and other serious offenses to be awarded restitution for their time spent in jail. If you believe you have been wrongfully convicted of a homicide, call a Houston criminal defense attorney to advocate for you. Those who were wrongfully convicted have the right to apply for restitution through the state to receive monetary compensation for their suffering. Under the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code Title 5 Sec. 103.001, someone who was wrongfully convicted can be awarded $80,000 for each year they were imprisoned and receive payment of child support for those years of incarceration.