It might seem like a long shot, getting your criminal conviction overturned. And it’s certainly true that you can take nothing for granted.
But the fact of the matter is that there were a record number of exonerations last year in the United States.
In this post, we’ll use a Q & A format to dig into some of the numbers that quantify this.
How many exonerations were there in 2016 in the U.S.?
The National Registry of Exonerations at the University of Michigan reported 166 exonerations last year in the U.S. The exonerations came from 25 states, as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.
This was a new record, and the trendline has been going up for years.
What crimes were most common for exoneration?
Of the 166 exonerations in the national registry, 54 were for homicide. There were 24 exonerated for sexual assault.
But it’s isn’t only violent offenses for which there are exonerations. There were also 73 defendants who were cleared of non-violent offenses, mostly for drug possession or sale.
What are the most common causes for wrongful convictions that eventually result in exoneration?
Official misconduct by police or prosecutors played a role in at least 70 exonerations in 2016.
Coercive tactics that lead to false confessions also remain a big problem. This is the case more so in some parts of the country than others. A lot of these cases come from Illinois, for example, and the co-founder of the Innocence Project has called Chicago “the false confession capital” of the U.S.
What role do conviction integrity units play?
Conviction integrity units (CIUs) are located within a prosecutor’s office and are tasked not safeguarding against and, where necessary, correcting false convictions.
Nationally, there are still not a lot of CIUs. But the number went up to 29 in 2016, which is more than twice what it was only three years ago. Multnomah County, here in Oregon, is one of the jurisdictions that have created such units.
Is it possible to get an exoneration because it is later determined that no crime actually occurred?
Yes, it is. Indeed, that happened 94 times in 2016.