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The Prison Complex

Tuesday, Feb 4, 2014, 12:01 am

Study: DNA exonerations declined in 2013, while non-DNA exonerations rose sharply

By Matt Stroud

A new report from the National Registry of Exonerations puts the total number of exonerations in the U.S. at 1,300. Read the report here. Some of the report's most surprising findings below.

The trends in 2013 reflect several long-term trends in exonerations in America:

*Twenty-seven (27) of the 87 known exonerations that occurred in 2013 -- almost one-third of the total number for the year -- were in cases in which no crime in fact occurred, a record number.

*Fifteen (15) known exonerations in 2013 -- 17 percent -- occurred in cases in which the defendants were convicted after pleading guilty, also a record number. The rate of exonerations after a guilty plea has doubled since 2008 and the number continues to grow.

*Thirty-three (33) known exonerations in 2013 -- 38 percent -- were obtained at the initiative or with the cooperation of law enforcement. This is the second highest annual total of exonerations with law enforcement cooperation, down slightly from 2012, but consistent with an upward trend in police and prosecutors taking increasingly active roles in reinvestigating possible false convictions.

In 2013, Reginald Griffin, who had been sentenced to death in Missouri, was exonerated, bringing the total number of death row exonerations to 143 across 26 states since 1973, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

The ten states with the most recorded exonerations in 2013 were: Texas (13), Illinois (9), New York (8), Washington (7), California (6), Michigan (5), Missouri (5), Connecticut (4), Georgia (4), and Virginia (4). The states with the most recorded exonerations are not necessarily those where most false convictions have occurred.

“Exonerations are on the rise, and a lot of the credit goes to prosecutors and police who are increasingly active in investigating possible false convictions. But there are many false convictions that we don’t know about,” said Michigan Law professor Samuel Gross, editor of the Registry and an author of the report. “The exonerations we know about are only the tip of the iceberg.” “More people are now paying attention to wrongful convictions. Police, prosecutors, judges and the public are all more aware of the danger of convicting innocent defendants,” said Professor Gross.

“The more we learn about wrongful convictions, the better we’ll be at preventing them - and of course at correcting them after the fact as best we can,” said Rob Warden, co-founder of the Registry and Executive Director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions. “Studying the reasons for wrongful convictions - perjury, mistaken identification, official misconduct, false confessions, misleading forensic evidence – will lead to fewer convictions of the innocent.”

Keep track of the exoneration registry here.

Matt Stroud is a former Innocence Network investigator who now covers the U.S. legal system, in all its glory and ugliness, as a freelance journalist. Follow him on Twitter @ssttrroouudd. Email him at stroudjournalismgmail.com.

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