HOUSTON – Across the nation, 149 people in prison were released last year because their convictions were overturned. That’s a record number of exonerations.
A report by The National Registry of Exonerations showed that those people served an average of 14.5 years. Texas led the country with 54 cases, mostly in Houston’s Harris County, while New York had 17 cases, eight of them in Brooklyn’s Kings County.
Samuel Gross, the Registry’s editor and a University of Michigan law professor, said officials in these counties are taking a stronger approach to seeking justice for wrongfully convicted inmates.
“We have something like 3,100 different counties in the country, and something like 2,500 separate, local prosecutorial agencies,” he said. “If more of them made the efforts that were made in those two locations, I’m sure they would find many more cases in which innocent defendants were convicted.”
In Texas, 42 guilty-plea exonerations in drug convictions were the result of work by the Harris County District Attorney’s Office. Across the country, defendants were exonerated in cases ranging from homicide to drug possession. The report said their convictions included false confessions, official misconduct and guilty pleas. A record 75 exonerations in 2015 were cases in which no crime actually occurred.
That may not seem like a lot, but Lonnie Soury, founder of the website FalseConfessions.org said statistics show that they are just the tip of the iceberg.
“Even the federal Justice Department did a study once and said between 5 and 10 percent of the people in prison are wrongfully convicted,” he said. “So, if there’s 2.5 million people in prison, even 5 percent would be 125,000.”
According to the National Registry of Exonerations report, there were 24 Conviction Integrity Units in the United States in 2015. That’s double the number from 2013, and four times the number in 2011 – although some units have been accused of being ineffective and creating an illusion of progress.
The study is online at law.umich.edu
Author: Mark Richardson – Texas News Service