A record 1,639 years were lost in prison by those wrongly convicted and exonerated in 2018, according to “Exonerations in 2018,” the annual report of The National Registry of Exonerations (NRE). The 151 persons exonerated in 2018 spent an average of 10.9 years wrongly incarcerated before exoneration. The report highlights milestones, trends, and the year’s specific exoneration takeaways.
For example, in September 2018 the total number of years lost by exonerees exceeded the milestone of 20,000. As of today, that number is 21,095 lost years for the 2,418 persons known to have been exonerated since 1989.
One highlight of 2018 was an extraordinary 31 defendants exonerated as a result of the scandal in Chicago stemming from an era of police corruption led by Sergeant Ronald Watts in which defendants were framed by police on drug and weapons charges. Reinvestigation of these cases — 30 of which were drug crimes — prompted the exonerations.
The Registry notes contributors to wrongful conviction in each case of exoneration. The 31 Chicago cases were included in at least 107 cases involving official misconduct, a record number for the year. Official misconduct was a factor in fifty-four homicide exonerations in 2018.
However, encouraging evidence of prosecutors contributing to exonerations through Conviction Integrity Units (CIUs) was evidenced in 58 of the year’s exonerations. Innocence Organizations (IOs) were involved in 86 exonerations, an increase from 70 in 2017. These organizations, considered “professional exonerators” were responsible for 99 exonerations and the two worked together on a record 45 exonerations in 2018.
Other frequent contributors to wrongful conviction were noted in the exonerations of 2018: Perjury or false accusation contributed in a record 111 cases; eyewitness misidentification in 31 cases; and false confession in 19 cases.
The comprehensive report includes an analysis of exonerations by state and type of crime, as well as the latest findings on other aspects of the workings of criminal justice and its broader impact on states and the nation.
As one example, the report includes new research on compensation for exonerees by George Washington University of Law Professor Jeffrey Gutman who studied 1,900 exonerations in state courts posted in the registry as of March 1, 2017. Fewer than half of these exonerees received compensation. Even so, state and local governments have paid more than $2.2 billion in compensation, which does not include the massive financial and human costs related to incarceration, particularly wrongful incarceration.
The National Registry of Exonerations, founded in 2012 in conjunction with the Center on Wrongful Conviction at Northwestern University School of Law, is a project of the Newkirk Center for Science & Society at University of California Irvine, the University of Michigan Law School and Michigan State University College of Law. This writer is honored to serve on the Registry’s advisory board.
The complete National Registry of Exonerations 2018 annual report is available here.