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This week, the National Registry of Exonerations, housed at the University of Michigan Law School, released new data showing that 2013 was the high-water mark year for exonerations to date , with 87 prisoners freed. This led some legal media, like our colleagues over at Above the Law, to write headlines like “Instance of Known Prosecutor FAILS are on the Rise.”

In their words,

“More exonerations suggest that more resources are being spent going back over closed cases and freeing people based on new or better evidence. But the report is also chilling proof that our criminal justice system gets things wrong, all the time, and innocent people go to jail because of it. Instead of being obsessed with conviction rates, state bars might want to look into prosecutorial f**k-up rates.”

In the words of the Wall Street Journal’s Law Blog, “Mistakes were made — a lot of them.”

Important trends revealed by the new report include:

  • DNA exonerations declined, representing about 1/5th of all the exonerations
  • About 1/3 of the exonerations were in cases in which no crime occurred at all
  • 17% of the exonerations occurred following a guilty plea, which is a record number, and appears to be part of an upward trend
  • Most exonerations are related to homicide or sexual assault crimes, but the proportion of non-homicide or sexual assault exonerations continues to climb
  • 38% of the exonerations were initiated by or achieved in cooperation with law enforcement officials, the second-highest annual rate of exonerations with law enforcement cooperation to date
  • The average exoneree in 2013 was convicted 12 years prior to exoneration; some as many as 30 years earlier
  • Texas, the state which leads the nation in executions, also leads the nation in exonerations for 2013 with 13



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