USA: REGISTRY TALLIES OVER 2,000 WRONGFUL CONVICTIONS SINCE 1989
May 21, 2012: The University of Michigan law school and Northwestern University have compiled a new National Registry of Exonerations â a database of over 2,000 prisoners exonerated since 1989 in the United States.
Most false convictions never see the light of the day," said the authors of the study âExonerations in the United States, 1989−2012â, professors of law Samuel Gross and Michael Shaffer of the University of Michigan. After 3 years of research, the 2 experts, aided by their students, came up with the names of 2,000 inmates exonerated from 1989 to 2012. They were able to develop profiles of 885 cases in a national registry, which is constantly updated and now includes 891 names listed on their website, exonerationregistry.org. A quarter of prisoners exonerated of murder - 101 out of 409 - had been sentenced to capital punishment, according to the report. And nearly 1/2 of all rape or murder convicts who had been later found innocent - 341 out of 721 - were about to be executed or remain in prison for the rest of their lives, the study said. 10 were found innocent after their death. "Most innocent defendants with short sentences probably never try to clear their names," Gross said.
"They serve their time and do what they can to put the past behind them.
"Death sentences produce exonerations at 9 times the rate for all homicide convictions".
Since 1989 DNA evidence has been widely used to clear the names of innocent people convicted of rape and murder. The leading causes of wrongful convictions include perjury, flawed eyewitness identification and prosecutorial misconduct. For those who have placed unequivocal faith in the US criminal justice system and believe that all condemned prisoners are guilty of the crime of which they were convicted, the data must make for a rude awakening.
"Nobody had an inkling of the serious problem of false confessions until we had this data," said Rob Warden, executive director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University. "No matter how tragic they are, even 2,000 exonerations over 23 years is a tiny number in a country with 2.3 million people in prisons and jails," says a report released by the authors. "If that were the extent of the problem we would be encouraged by these numbers. But itâs not. These cases merely point to a much larger number of tragedies that we do not know about."
The report notes that about 37% of exonerations occurred with the help of DNA evidence. The average time of imprisonment before exoneration was 11 years.
About 62% of those exonerated were members of minorities. (Sources: Death Penalty Information Center, Agence France-Presse, The Guardian, CNN, 21/05/2012)