Word of wrongful convictions pops into the news frequently, but a new registry puts a number on just how often: By its count, more than 2,000 people have been exonerated of serious crimes since 1989. The National Registry of Exonerations claims to be the largest database of its kind, and it covers the era since DNA testing began to be commonly used. Many of the wrongful convictions can be traced to police corruption and witnesses who lied or later recanted, but there has also been a surprising number of people who confessed to crimes they didn't commit while under intense interrogation.
"Nobody had an inkling of the serious problem of false confessions until we had this data," says an executive director of Northwestern University's Center on Wrongful Convictions, which compiled the registry along with the University of Michigan Law School. Sponsors hope the registry will shed light on the mistakes of the criminal justice system, allowing them to be prevented in the future, the Los Angeles Times reports. Of all the states, Illinois has the most exonerations listed, but a University of Michigan law professor says more data is needed to make true comparisons: "It's clear that the exonerations we found are the tip of the iceberg." (Read more exonerate stories.)