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Forum Post: Study: 2,000 Convicted then Exonerated in 23 Years

Posted 6 years ago on May 21, 2012, 4:48 p.m. EST by LeoYo (5909)
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Study: 2,000 convicted then exonerated in 23 years

By PETE YOST | Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — More than 2,000 people who were falsely convicted of serious crimes have been exonerated in the United States in the past 23 years, according to a new archive compiled at two universities.

There is no official record-keeping system for exonerations of convicted criminals in the country, so academics set one up. The new national registry, or database, painstakingly assembled by the University of Michigan Law School and the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law, is the most complete list of exonerations ever compiled.

The database compiled and analyzed by the researchers contains information on 873 exonerations for which they have the most detailed evidence. The researchers are aware of nearly 1,200 other exonerations, for which they have less data.

They found that those 873 exonerated defendants spent a combined total of more than 10,000 years in prison, an average of more than 11 years each. Nine out of 10 of them are men and half are African-American.

Nearly half of the 873 exonerations were homicide cases, including 101 death sentences. Over one-third of the cases were sexual assaults.

DNA evidence led to exoneration in nearly one-third of the 416 homicides and in nearly two-thirds of the 305 sexual assaults. Researchers estimate the total number of felony convictions in the United States is nearly a million a year.

The overall registry/list begins at the start of 1989. It gives an unprecedented view of the scope of the problem of wrongful convictions in the United States and the figure of more than 2,000 exonerations "is a good start," said Rob Warden, executive director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions.

"We know there are many more that we haven't found," added University of Michigan law professor Samuel Gross, the editor of the newly opened National Registry of Exonerations.

Counties such as San Bernardino in California and Bexar County in Texas are heavily populated, yet seemingly have no exonerations, a circumstance that the academics say cannot possibly be correct. The registry excludes at least 1,170 additional defendants. Their convictions were thrown out starting in 1995 amid the periodic exposures of 13 major police scandals around the country. In all the cases, police officers fabricated crimes, usually by planting drugs or guns on innocent defendants.

Regarding the 1,170 additional defendants who were left out of the registry, "we have only sketchy information about most of these cases," the report said. "Some of these group exonerations are well known; most are comparatively obscure. We began to notice them by accident, as a byproduct of searches for individual cases."

In half of the 873 exonerations studied in detail, the most common factor leading to false convictions was perjured testimony or false accusations. Forty-three percent of the cases involved mistaken eyewitness identification, and 24 percent of the cases involved false or misleading forensic evidence.

In two out of three homicides, perjury or false accusation was the most common factor leading to false conviction. In four out of five sexual assaults, mistaken eyewitness identification was the leading cause of false conviction.

Seven percent of the exonerations were drug, white-collar and other nonviolent crimes, 5 percent were robberies and 5 percent were other types of violent crimes.

"It used to be that almost all the exonerations we knew about were murder and rape cases. We're finally beginning to see beyond that. This is a sea change," said Gross.

Exonerations often take place with no public fanfare and the 106-page report that coincides with the opening of the registry explains why.

On TV, an exoneration looks like a singular victory for a criminal defense attorney, "but there's usually someone to blame for the underlying tragedy, often more than one person, and the common culprits include defense lawyers as well as police officers, prosecutors and judges. In many cases, everybody involved has egg on their face," according to the report.

Despite a claim of wrongful conviction that was widely publicized last week, a Texas convict executed two decades ago is not in the database because he has not been officially exonerated. Carlos deLuna was executed for the fatal stabbing of a Corpus Christi convenience store clerk. A team headed by a Columbia University law professor just published a 400-page report that contends DeLuna didn't kill the clerk, Wanda Jean Lopez.


Center on Wrongful Convictions: http://tinyurl.com/dd9s2o

Professor Samuel Gross: http://tinyurl.com/7rrauxh



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[-] 1 points by LeoYo (5909) 6 years ago

Whether one is for or against the death penalty or a national DNA data base, the problem is criminal-justice corruption. So long as that corruption exists, the problems will persist.

[-] 1 points by MattLHolck (16833) from San Diego, CA 6 years ago

the death penalty is irreversible

[-] 1 points by 1sealyon (434) 6 years ago

How to you feel about a national DNA data base? It would help to reduce wrongful convictions.


[-] 1 points by geo (2638) from Concord, NC 6 years ago

Eliminating the death penalty would be better. Having worked in IT, I have little faith in a reliable DNA database thats national in scope. Then there is the privacy issue. DNA is very personal and currently requires a court order to obtain. Overall its a bad idea.

[-] 2 points by 1sealyon (434) 6 years ago

I agree with you about the death penalty.

However, in many States DNA is routinely collected from arrested suspects (court order not required).

Why is fingerprinting ok, but not DNA collection?


[-] 1 points by geo (2638) from Concord, NC 6 years ago

I have a problem gathering DNA from arrest suspects without sufficient cause... meaning the evidence gathered should be pertinent to the case, not just a standard gathering of DNA from everyone who is arrested.

I put fingerprinting and DNA in two different groups. Prints are noninvasive, and a copy of what you're print configurations are with a low tech very high reliability technique. DNA is far more complex evidence to obtain with many issues such as cross contamination to interfere with the identification, and chain of custody issues, since it is sent off to a different location for processing.

[-] 1 points by 1sealyon (434) 6 years ago

We take finger prints of everyone arrested (and have been for some time), DNA is another way to determine identity. Cross-contamination can be detected and corrected with subsequent tests. It is not invasive (cotton swab on the gum, less than the strip cavity search prior to joining other suspects in detention). Tracking and maintaining is an issue with all evidence. In this case if the DNA sample is suspect take another one.

There are also efforts afoot to take DNA samples at birth.

[-] 1 points by geo (2638) from Concord, NC 6 years ago

We'll have to agree to disagree. I don't feel comfortable with people giving DNA because they were arrested on traffic violations or street protesting. It is information that fingerprinting or simple ID cards can handle. Too much information for the government to have.

[-] 1 points by 1sealyon (434) 6 years ago

There are certainly pros and cons to the argument, but it is worth some study.

[-] 1 points by friendlyopposition (574) 6 years ago

Very interesting thing you propose. I wonder how it will be received.

[-] 1 points by 1sealyon (434) 6 years ago

Are you an NPR fan?

They had back to back stories today that must have created a publicly-funded, schizophrenic, grand mal seizure.

The first story was a one-sided rant against the invasion of personal privacy that is the National DNA data base. The next story went on about the importance of stopping Republicans from cutting the National Census Bureau’s American Community Survey because we need all of this private personal info to inform public policy.


[-] 1 points by geo (2638) from Concord, NC 6 years ago

The two aren't even comparable... apples and oranges. DNA is far more intrusive than a Census Survey. The Census Survey is in the Constitution.

[-] 1 points by 1sealyon (434) 6 years ago

The 10 year national survey is required by the constitution, not the annual American Community Survey.

I don't think that the NPR bias was motivated by the degree of intrusiveness, but by the consequences of each government activity. The National DNA database, and the American Community Survey both discover private information. The basis, and the irony, of the NPR bias has to do with results not methods. What is the result of each activity? If the results were reversed I suspect NPR would likely reverse their opinions.

[-] 1 points by friendlyopposition (574) 6 years ago

I do listen to NPR - missed those stories though...