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Record Number of Wrongful Convictions Overturned

The bedrock of the U.S. judicial system is the presumption of innocence. Still, there is a pervasive belief that anyone who is arrested must be guilty of something. Some people even implicate themselves by falsely confessing to a crime they did not commit. A recent report on exonerations — the dismissal of criminal charges — shows that the system does not always work. Too many innocent people are wrongfully arrested, convicted and jailed.

The National Registry of Exonerations reported 87 criminal case exonerations in 2013, the highest number since it began releasing this information in 1989. Of these overturned convictions:

  • 40 were wrongful murder charges.
  • 18 were for rape or sexual assault.
  • 29 were for nonviolent crimes.
  • 15 were based on false confessions.
  • 17 were based on DNA evidence.

Some innocent defendants pled guilty in plea bargains on the advice that this was their best option. Other confessions were obtained using coercive police tactics. Nonviolent crimes included drug convictions. There were fewer exonerations based on a review of DNA evidence, possibly because prosecutors are becoming less likely to rely on questionable forensic results.

While 87 cases represent a tiny percentage of criminal sentences, they are a grim reminder that we must never take presumption of innocence for granted. A wrongful arrest or conviction has devastating consequences. Before their exoneration, these defendants had spent an average of 12 years in prison.

Many people — especially if they did not commit the crime they have been accused of — think they do not really need a criminal defense attorney. Whether you have just been arrested or want to appeal a conviction, make certain that you have solid legal representation.

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