Launched today, the National Registry of Exonerations profiles 891 people who were wrongfully convicted and then later exonerated through new evidence of innocence—both DNA and non-DNA. The registry, a joint project of the University of Michigan Law School and the Northwestern University School of Law, is the most comprehensive accounting of exonerations ever compiled.
The 891 cases, at last count, include exonerations since 1989, the year of the first DNA exoneration. The 291 DNA exoneration cases tracked by the Innocence Project are represented within this count. The Innocence Project does not track exonerations achieved by means other than DNA, which might include witness recantations, a true perpetrators’ confession and more. MSNBC reports:
We can figure that as sort of the modern period in exonerations because DNA was a big game-changer,” said University of Michigan Law Professor Samuel Gross, one of the registry’s creators. “It provided a scientific instrument for reviewing cases and providing a different type of evidence about those cases because the technology didn’t exist.”
But DNA doesn’t actually account for the majority of the exonerations in the database, after an initial wave in the early 1990s, he said.
“DNA is a fairly narrow-gauged tool. It only fits particular type of crimes,” Gross said, noting that only 37 percent of the people in the database were cleared with the help of DNA evidence. “In the public mind, exoneration became identified with DNA… Most of these cases — DNA and non-DNA — everybody agrees there was a mistake; frequently because the criminal was caught, often because we agree there was no crime at all.”
Professor Gross believes that many other cases of wrongful conviction may never be discovered, or may yet to be discovered. Among the cases not listed by the registry are over 1,100 mass exonerations, representing cases of police misconduct scandals. These cases were intentionally omitted so as not to skew the final statistics. For example, research produced through the registry shows that 51% of the wrongful convictions involved perjury of false accusation, that 43% involved eyewitness misidentification, and that 42% involved official misconduct.
The National Registry of Exonerations team encourages anyone who has been exonerated or knows of an exoneration not listed on the registry to contact them
View the registry
Read the article
Browse the Innocence Project database
of DNA exoneration cases.