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

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 201317 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 201338 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 stroudjournalism<at>gmail.com.
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