News 03.07.17

2016 a Record Year for Exonerations

By innocence staff

A report by the National Registry of Exonerations shows that the number of people exonerated in the United States rose again in 2016 for a record total of 166.

The previous record was set in 2015, with 160 total exonerations. According to the report, the annual number of exonerations has more than doubled since 2011.

The Registry’s founder, University of Michigan law professor Samuel Gross, told the Associated Press that an increasing annual number of exonerations does not mean wrongful convictions are in decline.

“What worries us most . . . is people will say, ‘Oh, exonerations are way up … We’re dealing with this problem,'” Gross told the AP. “But the number of people convicted of crimes they did not commit who are never exonerated is much greater.”

Of 2016’s 166 exonerations, 42 percent of these exonerations involved government misconduct and in 45 percent of the exonerations, the defendant pleaded guilty to the crime.

In 57 percent of last year’s exonerations, it was determined that no crime actually occurred.

Texas took the lead as the state with the most exonerations in 2016, including 48 drug cases out of Harris County in which defendants pleaded guilty to possession of drugs before lab tests could be performed. In many of these cases, the defendants took plea deals to secure release from jail after not being able to afford bail. A federal lawsuit claims that the bail system in Harris County unfairly affects low-income defendants, many of whom are people of color.

Read the Associated Press coverage here.

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