Friday, January 30, 2015

A record 125 people were exonerated of crimes in 2014. Here are 6 of their stories.

Cooperation with law enforcement helped increase the number of Americans absolved of previous criminal convictions to 125 in 2014 — a record high since the National Registry of Exonerations began tracking such cases in 1989.

The figure surpassed the previous record of 91 in 2012 and 2013.

The registry's report, released Tuesday, linked the rise in exonerations to special investigative teams that examine convictions based on coerced confessions, false testimony, and other instances of bad evidence. These units were particularly active in Houston and Brooklyn, where 40 people were exonerated for crimes ranging from drug possession to murder.

The first of these special units was founded in 2002, but at least 15 existed in 2014.

"I think there is a seachange in the thinking related to the fallibility of the criminal justice system,'' University of Michigan law professor Samuel Gross, co-founder of the registry, told USA Today. "It turns out that [wrongful conviction] is a much more common problem than everybody realizes.''

Some other findings in the report:
  • Six of the people exonerated in 2014 had been sentenced to death — three in Ohio, two in North Carolina, and one in Louisiana. Each had been imprisoned for 30 years or more.
  • Forty-seven of the 125 defendants exonerated in 2014 had pled guilty.
  • Most exonerations in 2014 — 103 of 125 — were done without DNA evidence.
  • In about 54 percent of cases, the exonerations dropped some convictions but left others on a defendant's record.
  • There were exonerations in 27 states and some federal jurisdictions, including Washington, DC, in 2014.

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