The Washington Post’s Radley Balko examined yesterday the news that a disproportionally large number of drug convictions based on confessions and field lab tests of seized substances have been overturned in Harris County, Texas. There were reportedly 42 false drug convictions overturned in Harris county in 2015—that’s 42 out of 47 nationwide.
The Harris county sheriff’s department also has a record of extracting false confessions, with one person on death row being exonerated in 2015. And there is an implied link between the rate of false confessions and the fact that Harris County allows for felony charges to be brought even for “trace amounts” of illicit drugs.
This threat allows cops to exert unethical pressure. A number of innocent people have been found to have confessed to drug charges merely out of fear of severe penalties—including losing custody of their children. According to the National Registry of Exonerations, another 200 cases are being processed in which defendants pleaded guilty, despite lab results later showing that the substance they were arrested for was not illegal.
Meanwhile Canada is facing a different crisis stemming from poor drug-testing methodology. There, hundreds of adoptions have been put on hold after Toronto’s Motherisk Labs was shut down for systematic failures. Results obtained from the now-defunct lab resulted in numerous cases of families losing custody of children. As many as 300 children remain in limbo as the Canadian government tries to address the issue.