Note: Participate in a LIVE Twitter Q&A with Sam Gross, Editor of The National Registry of Exonerations, today, February 4, at 1:00 p.m. EST. Use #NRE13.
Exonerations in 2013, the annual report of The National Registry of Exonerations, has reported 87 exonerations in the United States in 2013, a record-breaking year. The next highest total was 83 exonerations in 2009. On December 31, 2013, known exonerations since 1989 totaled 1,281, a dynamic number that increases frequently as current and past exonerations are added. In addition to providing detailed data on exonerations for the year, the annual report noted several trends in exonerations in the United States.
The registry added a total of 234 exonerations in 2013 including 85 new cases and 149 discovered from prior years. The 2013 year’s total increased to 87 with two cases added in 2014, and this number is expected to grow as additional exonerations that occurred in 2013 are reported or discovered. The total of all known exonerations is 1,304 to date, February 4, 2014.
The report notes that exonerations “are excursions into the past.” Those exonerated in 2013 were convicted on average 12 years ago.
The report provides extensive geographical analysis on exonerations for both 2013 and in the database overall since 1989. The states with the most exonerations in 2013 were Texas (13), Illinois (9), New York (8), Washington (7), California (6), Michigan (5), Missouri (5), Connecticut (4), Georgia (4), and Virginia (4).
Among trends confirmed in 2013 is the decrease in exonerations in which DNA played a role. Eighteen exonerations—about one-fifth of the year’s exonerations—utilized DNA in 2013.
Nearly a third of the exonerations in 2013—27 of the 87 known exonerations—were cases in which no crime occurred, which was a record high in this category. Nearly half of these were for non-violent crimes such as drug convictions.
The year was also record-breaking in the percentage of cases in which defendants plead guilty (17%). Fifteen of the 87 known exonerations followed a guilty plea. The long-term rate over all known exonerations has been increasing in this category and has doubled since 2008.
A trend of increasing cooperation of police or prosecutors or both continued in 2013. Law enforcement cooperated or initiated efforts resulting in exoneration in 38% of the cases in 2013, second only to 2012 in which their participation rate was 49%. Since 1989, this cooperation has occurred in 29% of the cases overall.
The report also provides data on the types of crimes represented by the year’s exonerations. The majority of the cases in 2013 continued to be homicide and sexual assault cases. In 2013 there were 40 murder exonerations and 18 exonerations in cases involving rape or sexual assault, but 33% of the exonerations did not include these most represented crimes, also a new high record.
The report provides an update on the entire registry as well as the most recent year. For example, in terms of gender, 92% of the known exonerated at year-end 2013 were men. Viewed by race, 47% were black, 40% white, 11% Hispanic, and 2% Native American or Asian. Procedural methods utilized included pardons, dismissals, acquittals, certificates of innocence, and posthumous exonerations.
The National Registry, a joint project of University of Michigan Law School and the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law, listed 891 exonerations when the project was launched in May 2012. The recent total to date of 1,304 exonerations is a 46% increase in about twenty months. This number does not include at least 1,100 exonerated defendants involved in 12 “group exonerations”—“sets of cases in which corrupt police officers systematically framed innocent defendants for non-existent crimes, mostly possession of illegal drugs or guns.”
In addition to the trend of increasing cooperation of law enforcement in exonerations, the report suggests that we “are increasingly willing to consider and act on the types of innocence claims that are often ignored: those without biological evidence or with no actual perpetrator; cases with comparatively light sentences; judgments based on guilty pleas by defendants who accepted plea bargains to avoid the risk of extreme punishment after trial.”
The report concludes with eight case reports of exonerations in 2013, which exemplify trends in the reported data.
The full 40-page report is available online (here).
See an infographic here: http://www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/Pages/infographic.aspx