Today's New York Times reports, "Study Puts Exonerations at Record Level in U.S.," by Timothy Williams.
The number of exonerations in the United States of those wrongly convicted of a crime increased to a record 87 during 2013, and of that number, nearly one in five had initially pleaded guilty to charges filed against them, according to a report to be released on Tuesday as part of a project led by two university law schools.
Nearly half of the exonerations — 40 — were based on murder convictions, including that of a man wrongly convicted and subsequently sentenced to death in the fatal stabbing of a fellow inmate in a Missouri prison in 1983, according to the report by the National Registry of Exonerations. The registry is a joint program of the University of Michigan Law School and the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law.
The previous record of known exonerations in the country came in 2009, when the group reported 83. The organization said it has documented 1,300 exonerations since 1989, most of them after convictions for murder, rape or other sexual assaults.
Fewer exonerations than in the past involved DNA evidence, a circumstance the registry attributed to the police and prosecutors exhibiting greater concern about the problem of false convictions.
But the report also found that 17 percent of those exonerated in 2013 had originally pleaded guilty to a crime they did not commit — usually because the defendant had been offered a plea bargain that guaranteed a lesser sentence on the condition of a guilty plea.
"Prosecutors help set record number of exonerations," is the Associated Press coverage filed by Alan Scher Zagier.
A nationwide push by prosecutors and police to re-examine possible wrongful convictions contributed to a record number of exonerations in 2013, according to a report released Tuesday.
The National Registry of Exonerations says 87 people falsely convicted of crimes were exonerated last year, four more than in 2009, the year with the next highest total. The joint effort by the Northwestern University and University of Michigan law schools has documented more than 1,300 such cases in the U.S. since 1989 while also identifying another 1,100 "group exonerations" involving widespread police misconduct, primarily related to planted drug and gun evidence.
The new report shows that nearly 40 percent of exonerations recorded in 2013 were either initiated by law enforcement or included police and prosecutors' cooperation. One year earlier, nearly half of the exonerations involved such reviews.
"Police and prosecutors have become more attentive and concerned about the danger of false conviction," said registry editor Samuel Gross, a Michigan law professor. "We are working harder to identify the mistakes we made years ago, and we are catching more of them."
"U.S. criminals exonerated in 2013 climbs to record high: study," is by Mary Wisniewski of Reuters, via GlobalPost.
The states with the most exonerations last year were Texas, Illinois and New York, according to the National Registry of Exonerations, a project of the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law and the University of Michigan Law School.
"Claims that were being ignored in a previous era are being given serious attention," said Rob Warden, executive director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions and co-founder of the registry.
An exoneration means a person is found innocent based on evidence not presented at his or her trial. This may include DNA evidence linking another person to the crime and evidence of perjury or false accusation.
The Guardian reports, "Record number of people exonerated of crimes in US in 2013," by Ed Pilkington.
The “Exonerations in 2013” report, which is produced jointly by the University of Michigan law school and the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University school of law, lists the top 10 states in terms of the number of falsely convicted prisoners who walked free as Texas (13), Illinois (9), New York (8), Washington (7), California (6), Michigan and Missouri (5), Connecticut, Georgia and Virginia (4).
Gross cautions against assuming that the top 10 are the states that are most at fault in terms of making judicial mistakes, pointing out that a high number of exonerations can actually be an indication of progressive penal thinking.
"2013 was a record year for exonerations of prisoners," is by Elizabeth Chuck at NBC News.
There are no statistics on how many of the 2.3 million people who are currently in custody in the U.S. might be imprisoned for false convictions, but estimates based on various prison populations suggest the rate ranges from 2.3 percent to 5 percent, Gross said.
For innocent people who get exonerated, life isn't always easy after serving time.
"People will shy away from you," Gross said. "They've lost 10 years, or in some cases, 30-some years of their life. Their children have grown up if they had children, their spouse may have left them, their parents may have died, they have no skills. For many people, the destruction that has occurred is irreparable."
"Exonerations On The Rise, And Not Just Because Of DNA," by Laura Sullivan of NPR, via WBUR-FM.
Only one-fifth of the exonerations last year relied on newly tested DNA. More than 30 percent occurred because law enforcement agencies reopened a long-closed case or handed over their records to someone else who wanted to take a look.
Gross says that's a sea change from just 10 years ago.
"The sharp, cold shower that DNA gave to the criminal justice system has made us realize that we have to re-examine other cases as well," he says. "That was a serious wake-up call, because that showed we made mistakes in a lot of cases where it never occurred to anybody that a mistake had been made."
Nowhere is this change more visible than in district attorneys' offices across the country. New York, Miami, Chicago, Los Angeles and others have opened "conviction integrity units," with the sole function of reviewing old cases and ensuring that the agency got it right.
Additional coverage includes:
"Record number of exonerations in 2013," by Natasha Lennard at Salon.
"Exonerations were at record high in 2013, report says," by Debra Cassens Weiss for ABA Journal.
"Texas Exonerates 13 in 2013," by Jordan Smith at the Austin Chronicle.
"4 of record 87 exonerations were in Va.," is by Frank Green with the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
Earlier coverage of the National Registry of Exonerations latest report begins at the link.