More US Exonerations in 2015 Than Ever Before

Almost 150 people, mostly falsely convicted for homicides and drug possession
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 3, 2016 10:21 AM CST

(Newser) – Netflix's Making a Murderer has not only become a binge-watching addiction—it's apparently turned the spotlight onto unjust convictions in the US. And exonerations are at an all-time high, reports Reuters: There were 149 in 2015, compared with 139 in 2014, according to a report from the National Registry of Exonerations. Of last year's inmates, the average time spent in prison was about 14.5 years, per the registry, a University of Michigan Law School project. These newest exonerations involved everything from record numbers of false confessions (mostly from defendants who were minors, mentally handicapped, or both) and official misconduct to convictions produced via guilty pleas—and some cases in which no crime occurred at all. "There is a coming to terms that this is a regular problem, not just something that happens once in a while and unpredictably," the editor of the registry says.

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Two types of crimes with a large number of exonerations: homicide (58 were convicted of this, including five people sentenced to death) and drug possession—a crime for which defendants often plead guilty just to avoid longer sentences, the report notes. Texas had the most exonerations in 2015 with 54, followed by New York (17) and Illinois (13). What helped secure many of these exonerations: the two dozen CIUs (Conviction Integrity Units) in the US dedicated to preventing and sussing out false convictions. Still, the report says that any progress is "a drop in the bucket." "There is a growing awareness that false convictions are a substantial, widespread, and tragic problem," the report notes. "We have no measure of the magnitude of the problem, no general plan for how to address it, and certainly no general commitment to do so. We've made a start, but that's all." (Women have a particularly hard time being exonerated).

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