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Exonerations for wrongful convictions on the rise

Though newspaper accounts may leave the impression that anyone arrested of a crime is guilty, one study demonstrates that exonerations for those arrested have risen. According to a National Registry of Exonerations program report, exonerations across the country are at the highest levels in 25 years. 

The program has been conducted by two law schools.  The study found that the number of individuals exonerated due to wrongful convictions has risen to the highest total at least since 1989.  No data concerning this problem was made available in earlier years.  California was fifth on the list of states with the highest number of exonerations in 2013.

What is surprising about the report is that fewer of these exonerations are coming about due to DNA evidence. Instead many of these exonerations are coming about because law enforcement officers and prosecutors are now more willing to revisit convictions that came about due to errors.

Sadly, a great many wrongful convictions did come about because of official misconduct at some level. This misconduct occurred in close to 60 percent of wrongful convictions for alleged homicide. Besides homicide cases, many exonerations also involved rape, sexual assault or drug allegations.

Statistics also demonstrate that 17 percent of those exonerated had originally pled guilty. In many circumstances, innocent individuals arrested had accepted a plea bargain in order to receive a lesser sentence.

As criminal defense attorneys, we have a duty to fight for those accused of crimes because of the harm that comes about due to a wrongful conviction. For those exonerated of crimes in 2013, the average time for the exoneration to occur was around 12 years. That could mean that some individuals spent 12 years in prison for a crime they never committed.

Source: The Christian Science Monitor, "Exonerations climb in US, as prosecutors, police probe wrongful convictions," Elizabeth Barber, Feb. 4, 2014

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Dublin, CA 94568

Phone: 925-463-3340
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