Criminal Justice

2015 was a record year for exonerations, report says

Last year a record number of defendants were exonerated, according to a project that collects the data.

Among the record 149 exonerations last year, 58 were in homicide cases, also a record high, according to a report (PDF) by the National Registry of Exonerations, a project of the University of Michigan Law School. In five of the homicide exonerations, the defendant had been sentenced to death.

“Last year’s record is part of a striking trend,” the report says. “Since 2011, the annual number of exonerations has more than doubled. We now average nearly three exonerations a week.”

In 27 of the exonerations, the defendant had falsely confessed. More than 80 percent of the false confessions were in homicide cases, mostly by defendants who were under 18 or had intellectual disabilities or both. In 65 exoneration cases, the defendant had pleaded guilty. In 75 cases, no crime actually occurred.

Forty-seven exonerations were in drug cases, including 42 in Harris County, Texas, where a conviction integrity unit found that defendants were pleading guilty to drug possession before crime lab results showed seized material did not contain illegal drugs.

Fifty-eight exonerations were due to the work of conviction integrity units, including the one in Harris County.

Five exonerations in which no crime occurred were in arson-murder cases prosecuted before 1992, when the National Fire Protection Association issued on major report on the science of arson.

See also:

ABA Journal: “Prisoner exonerations are at an all-time high, and it’s not because of DNA testing”

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