An unprecedented 125 exonerations were recorded in the USA last year, and a majority of the cases involved the cooperation of an unlikely ally: law enforcement.
Prosecutors and police initiated or cooperated in reversing at least 67 wrongful convictions, also a record number, according to a report by the National Registry of Exonerations.
The report linked the law enforcement involvement to the relatively recent emergence of special prosecutorial units that examine convictions based on bad evidence, false testimony, coerced confessions and other breakdowns.
The special prosecutor units have grown in number from the first in 2002 to 15 last year. The most active last year were in Houston and Brooklyn, which assisted in a combined 39 exonerations of people wrongfully convicted of crimes, ranging from murder to drug offenses.
"I think there is a seachange in the thinking related to the fallibility of the criminal justice system,'' said University of Michigan law professor Samuel Gross, co-founder of the registry. "It turns out that (wrongful conviction) is a much more common problem than everybody realizes.''
The report found that the legal system is "increasingly willing to act on innocence claims that have often been ignored.''