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Michael Johnson

Other Nevada exonerations
At about 10 p.m. on January 12, 2011, police in Las Vegas, Nevada spotted 55-year-old Michael Johnson walking through the parking lot of a convenience store near the intersection of South Jones Boulevard and West Tropicana Avenue. Two officers said Johnson picked something up off the ground, licked a finger, touched the object and then put his finger to his lips.

After performing the motion once more, Johnson then began walking away. The officers stopped him, believing he was picking up drugs that had been left there for him.

Asked what he was tasting, Johnson said it was baking soda, the officers reported. He said he had tossed it back on the ground. The officers went back and found a small plastic bag of white powder. They performed a field test, which was positive for the presence of cocaine.

On June 20, 2011, Johnson pled guilty in Clark County District Court to a misdemeanor charge of possession of a controlled substance. He was sentenced to community service.

In October 2016, ProPublica, an independent nonprofit investigative news organization, published an article titled, “Unreliable and Unchallenged.” The article detailed how in 2014 the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department had documented how field tests had produced false positive test results. At times, the results were wrong and at other times, officers misinterpreted negative results as positive findings.

However, the department continued to use the unreliable form of testing, the report said.

Following the publication of the article, the newly formed Conviction Integrity Unit at the Clark County District Attorney’s Office began reviewing cases cited in the 2014 report as having erroneous field test findings based on subsequent laboratory tests that were negative for the presence of controlled substances.

A total of five cases, including Johnson’s, were identified in which the defendants had pled guilty to the charges and subsequent laboratory tests were negative for the presence of any controlled substance.

On March 9, 2017, the prosecution filed a motion to vacate Johnson’s conviction and then dismissed the case. The other four cases also were vacated and dismissed.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 6/30/2020
Last Updated: 6/30/2020
Most Serious Crime:Drug Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2011
Sentence:Community service
Age at the date of reported crime:55
Contributing Factors:False or Misleading Forensic Evidence
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No