The National Registry of Exonerations’ announcement this week that 2013 was a record year for exonerations in the United States is an encouraging sign, as Nancy Petro reported here. The registry’s report also offers lots of good data, of which Phil Locke published a good analysis here, on which to base reforms.
But all this good news belies the fact that exonerations are still exceedingly difficult to achieve. And while the registry is correct in reporting that some law-enforcement agencies and prosecutors are more cooperative in identifying and correcting wrongful convictions, it’s important to note that is still the exception to the rule.
Most of that cooperation comes in cases in which DNA testing might provide definitive answers. But with the number of such cases waning as DNA testing becomes common during criminal investigations, innocence investigations are becoming harder as they move to cases without DNA, and they are often resisted by authorities with maddening arguments and stonewalling worthy of Richard Nixon.
But even when there is DNA to test, there is still resistance in some corners of the United States, as Andrew Cohen explains in The Atlantic. “There are … two relevant facts worth noting that are not synthesized into the exoneration report’s analysis,” Cohen says. “The first is that not all states are equal when it comes to prioritizing exonerations. Some simply care less about justice for the wrongfully convicted than others. … The second point that needs to be made in the shadow of the report is that some states today are moving against the flow. Lawmakers in at least two states, Alabama and Tennessee, are seriously considering measures that would tighten appellate deadlines in capital cases, making exonerations harder to achieve.”
Cohen’s sobering words, which you can read here, are a reminder that there is much work still to be done in the exoneration movement.
Excellent article. Lots of hard work ahead.
Yes, exceedingly difficult. It’s estimated that between 1-6% of inmates were wrongly convicted. Let’s be conservative and use the 1% number, and apply that to an inmate population of 1.5 million. That works out to 15,000 INNOCENT people in prison. Given that number and normal turnover, it’s likely that far more than 87 wrongly convicted people actually were SENT to prison last year, as compared to the 87 who were exonerated. Shouldn’t there be some kind of a national goal to reduce the percentage of the wrongly convicted in prison to something like 1/10 of a percent? Doesn’t that sound like a goal consistent with “beyond a reasonable doubt”? That means 1,500 inmates, and even that number should be intolerable and inexcusable. Now, if we had another goal to reduce the number of the wrongly convicted in prison from the estimated 15,000 to 1,500 in five years, that would mean exonerating 2,700 inmates a year (and not wrongly convicting anyone during that time). Eighty-seven (87) may be the largest number so far, but it’s no time for complacency. Martin is right. Exonerations are still much too hard to achieve.
Morrison, Excellent, well informed comment! Thank you for the stats, which need to be given to investigative reporters nationwide so the public can begin to understand the self-destruction of a nation of innocent people, their families and children and the future of our society for all posterity.
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