2014 was a record year for post-trial exonerations

January 29, 2015

Criminal justice is an oxymoron, but sometimes the legal system gets it right. Unfortunately, getting it right often does not happen until after the case is over.

In the better-late-than-never category, Mother Jones is reporting,

In 2014, 125 people across the United States who had been convicted of crimes were exonerated—the highest number ever recorded,according to a new report from the National Regestry of Exonerations at the University of Michigan Law School. The 2014 number included 48 who had been convicted of homicide, 6 of whom were on death row awaiting execution. Ricky Jackson of Ohio spent 39 years behind bars, the longest known prison term for an exoneree, according to the NRE. Jackson was sentenced to death in 1975 after false testimony implicated him in a robbery-murder he did not commit. Texas led the nation with 39 exonerations; it is followed by New York (17), Illinois (7), and Michigan (7). The federal government exonerated eight people.

Most of these post trial exonerations were obtained by so-called conviction integrity units (CIUs) created and staffed by prosecutors. There are 15 now in existence with more to come.

The Harris County CIU, which encompasses Houston, is responsible for 33 of last year’s exonerations. In early 2014, it reviewed drug cases it had prosecuted after learning that many people who had pled guilty to possession had not, in fact, possessed actual drugs. The Harris CIU’s findings reflected another trend: 58 exonerations this year, nearly half of the total, were so-called “no-crime exonerations,” which means, according to the NRE, “an accident or a suicide was mistaken for a crime, or…the exoneree was accused of a fabricated crime that never happened.”

Channel 5 News in Cleveland reports,

In Baltimore, the State’s Attorney’s office helped vacate the conviction of a man 46 years after he was convicted of murder. In Cleveland, three men convicted of a 1975 murder they didn’t commit were cleared, setting a new record of time behind bars for an exoneree: 39 years, 3 months 9 days. In Tulsa, DNA testing showed a mother hadn’t killed her 15-month-old baby, leading prosecutors to dismiss charges after nearly 20 years. And in Detroit, a man was released after police got a tip that the wrong person had been convicted in a 2006 murder.

Now we need to improve on getting it right the first time.

But if you’re black, you better not count on it because, if you call 911 seeking help, you are apt to get killed.


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