More wrongfully convicted people were exonerated last year than ever before in the US, a study by two law schools behind the National Registry of Exonerations finds. Some 87 people were found to have been wrongfully convicted, compared to 83 in 2009, the study's previous high, per the New York Times. Standout details: Some 17% of exonerations last year followed guilty pleas, often made in exchange for a reduced sentence. About half the exonerations were for murder convictions; in one case, a wrongfully convicted man was sentenced to death.
Why the increase? Much of it has to do with a newfound willingness among prosecutors to revisit previous cases, the study finds. The registry's editor tells NPR: "The sharp, cold shower that DNA (evidence) gave to the criminal justice system ... showed we made mistakes in a lot of cases where it never occurred to anybody that a mistake had been made." Indeed, nearly 40% of 2013's exonerations were either initiated by law enforcement or included police and prosecutors' cooperation, the AP reports. But in a major change, DNA wasn't at the root of many of the exonerations: Only 20% of the 87 were based on newly tested DNA. Study organizers have logged 1,300 exonerations since 1989.