This op-ed originally appeared on The New York Times.
WASHINGTON — In 2003, I represented dozens of African-American residents in Tulia, Tex., who had been convicted after a botched drug sting. Jason Jerome Williams, a 22-year-old with no prior criminal record, had been sentenced to 45 years in prison for four sales of an eighth of an ounce of cocaine. Freddie Brookins Jr., 25, had received 20 years for a first-time offense of selling less than four grams of cocaine. Joe Moore, a 56-year-old hog farmer, had gotten 90 years for two cocaine sales totaling under five grams. Others accepted plea deals to try to avoid such lengthy prison terms.
The convictions, in 1999 and 2000, were based on the flawed testimony of an undercover officer. The prosecution offered no physical evidence of marked bills, weapons, narcotics or drug paraphernalia — things you would expect to find in a sophisticated drug ring.