Criminal Justice
1:26 pm
Mon May 21, 2012

New online database tracks US exonerations since 1989

The University of Michigan Law School and the Center for Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law recently launched an online database containing an updated list of exonerations in the United States since 1989. The goal of the project is to prevent wrongful convictions or improve the process of identifying and correcting them should they occur.

So far, the National Registry of Exoneration lists more than 890 wrongfully convicted individuals.

For each case, the database offers demographic information on the individual and reports his or her crime, sentence, time served and reason for exoneration.

The registry released a report yesterday summarizing the first 873 cases included in the database. These individuals each spent an average of 11 years in prison, yielding a combined 10,000 years served. Ninety-three percent of them are male. Racially, 50 percent are black, 38 percent white, 11 percent Hispanic and 2 percent Native American or Asian.

Homicides and sexual assaults made up most of the cases at 48 percent and 35 percent, respectively. Of those wrongfully convicted of homicide, 101 had death sentences.

Of the rest of the cases, seven percent were drug, white collar and other non-violent crimes, five percent were robberies and another five percent were other violent crimes.

Geographically, the exonerations were concentrated in Illinois, New York, Texas and California.

Slightly more than half of these 873 individuals were wrongfully convicted because of perjury or false accusations.

Mistaken eyewitness identification and official misconduct led to 43 and 42 percent of the convictions, respectively. False or misleading forensic evidence caused another 24 percent, and the remaining 16 percent came from false confessions.

The registry also acknowledges at least 1,700 additional exonerations that came out of 13 instances of police-fabricated crimes. Although these cases are not included in the database, they bring the total number of exonerations since 1989 recognized by the registry to more than 2,000.

The website asks visitors to provide any information on missing exonerations or correct false information on listed cases. 

- Suzanne Jacobs, Michigan Radio Newsroom