Report Finds Exonerations in US Reached Record High in 2015

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Written By ESR News Blog Editor Thomas Ahearn

A report released by the National Registry of Exonerations revealed that 2015 was record year for exonerations in the United States with 149 in 29 states, the District of Columbia, federal courts, and Guam. The 149 exonerations broke the previous record of 139 set in 2014. The 149 defendants who were exonerated in 2015 served on average approximately 14-and-a-half years in prison.

According to the report, a record 58 defendants were exonerated in homicide cases in 2015, 54 for murder and 4 for manslaughter. More than two-thirds were minorities, including half who were African American. In addition, 47 defendants were exonerated of drug possession in 2015, which was also a record. The characteristics of the cases of exonerations were as follows:

  • False Confessions: A record 27 exonerations in 2015 were for convictions based on false confessions.
  • Official Misconduct: A record 65 exonerations in 2015 involved official misconduct.
  • Guilty Pleas: A record 65 exonerations in 2015 were for convictions based on guilty pleas.
  • No-Crime Cases: A record 75 exonerations in 2015 were cases in which no crime actually occurred.

The record amount of exonerations in 2015 is part of a striking trend. Since 2011, the annual number of exonerations has more than doubled and now averages nearly three exonerations a week. All told, the National Registry of Exonerations has recorded 1,733 known exonerations in the United States since 1989 (as of January 27, 2016). The Comments section of the report found the following to be true:

  • Exonerations are now common. Not long ago, any exoneration we heard about was major news. Now it’s a familiar story and most get little attention.
  • There are now many more exonerations in contexts where they used to be rare, in particular, in cases with innocent defendants who falsely confessed or pled guilty.
  • The proliferation of Conviction Integrity Units reflects a recognition that convicting the innocent is a serious public problem that requires proactive government attention.
  • By any reasonable accounting, there are tens of thousands of false convictions each year across the country, and many more that have accumulated over the decades.

The National Registry of Exonerations is a project of the University of Michigan Law School that provides information about every known exoneration in the United States since 1989—cases where a person was wrongly convicted of a crime and later cleared of all the charges based on new evidence of innocence. The report is at http://www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/Documents/Exonerations_in_2015.pdf.

Employment Screening Resources® (ESR) has released a complimentary whitepaper written by ESR Founder and CEO Attorney Lester Rosen – “Ten Critical Steps for Ex-Offenders to Get Back into the Workforce” – to help job applicants with criminal records re-enter society through jobs. The whitepaper is at http://www.esrcheck.com/Whitepapers/Ten-Steps-for-Ex-Offenders-to-Get-Back-in-Workforce/.

NOTE: Employment Screening Resources (ESR) does not provide or offer legal services or legal advice of any kind or nature. Any information on this web site is for educational purposes only.

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