The June 2014 update of the National Registry of Exonerations has reported 50 exonerations in the first half of 2014, which is on pace to be record-breaking and to exceed the 87 exonerations reported at year-end in 2013. Each year’s total is a dynamic number. The tally for 2013, for example, had recently increased to 89 as exonerations from the year continue to be discovered. As of June 27, 2014, the Registry was reporting 1,385 exonerations since 1989. As of today, the total has advanced to 1,394.
While these numbers are important, they are a high-level summary of the comprehensive information and case profiles that enable research and insights regarding miscarriages of justice.
An important revelation of the National Registry’s interactive database—which includes both DNA-proven and other official exonerations—is that different types of crimes have different primary contributors. Two recently created graphs enable examination of common contributors by type of crime. The graphs dynamically update as new exonerations are added to the Registry.
Even students of wrongful conviction might be surprised to learn that the most common contributor to wrongful convictions across all crimes represented in the Registry is perjury or false accusation, present in 55 percent of the exonerations. Many have believed that eyewitness misidentification is the primary contributor to wrongful conviction. As the June report explains, the pioneering work of the Innocence Project and its database of DNA-proven exonerations identified eyewitness misidentification as present in nearly 75 percent of its cases, which are primarily sexual assault cases.
Sexual assault cases, which often rely on identification of the perpetrator by the victim, frequently in stranger-to-stranger crimes, make up just 18 percent of the cases in the National Registry, where, in contrast, exonerations for homicides account for 46 percent. The new graphing feature quickly reveals that the most common causal factor to homicide wrongful convictions is perjury or false accusations, present in 65 percent of these exonerations.
Official exonerations recorded in the National Registry—cases in which a person was wrongfully convicted of a crime and later cleared of all charges—are a proxy for the larger unknown number of wrongful convictions that have not yet been recognized. The National Registry provides detailed information on recognized miscarriages of justice to enable researchers, legislators, lawyers, public safety officials, judges, and other criminal justice professionals to identify and address the causes and contributors to wrongful conviction.
For more information on the newest findings on the causes of wrongful convictions identified in official exonerations, by crime type, read the Registry’s June 2014 update (here).