2013 Is Record-Breaking Year for Exonerations in U.S.February 06, 2014

The National Registry of Exonerations recorded 87 exonerations in 2013, the most in any single year since the registry started in 1989.

The ten states with the most exonerations in 2013 were, in order: Texas, Illinois, New York, Washington, California, Michigan, Missouri, Connecticut, Georgia, and Virginia. Texas had thirteen exonerations.

Nearly one in five (17%) of those wrongly convicted had initially pleaded guilty to the charges against them - a record number. The rate of exonerations in guilty-plea cases has doubled since 2008.

Nicole Harris (pictured above), a 23-year-old mother of two with a degree in psychology, was wrongfully convicted of killing her four-year-old son Jaquari in 2005 after he was found asphyxiated by an elastic band that had come loose from a fitted bed sheet. Despite evidence that Chicago police coerced her into making a false confession and that the boy’s brother saw him wrap the band around his neck while he was playing, state courts denied relief. A federal appeals court granted a new trial but the state appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court, which denied review. The prosecution then dismissed the charge, eight years after Ms. Harris was wrongfully convicted.

Those exonerated in 2013 were convicted, on average, more than twelve years earlier; some exonerated people spent more than thirty years in prison.

The 2013 data show a continuing decline in DNA exonerations (which have always accounted for a small percentage of exonerations but made up only a fifth of exonerations in 2013) and the second highest annual total of exonerations obtained at the initiative or with the cooperation of law enforcement. Police and prosecutors in some jurisdictions appear to be taking increasingly active roles in reinvestigating possible false convictions and to be more responsive to claims of innocence, the registry found.

The registry is a joint program of the University of Michigan Law School and the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law. It lists 1304 exonerations. Eight percent occurred in death penalty cases, which reflects a uniquely high rate of exoneration. The average time from conviction to exoneration is about ten years in death penalty cases.

Seven people have been exonerated in Alabama. Walter McMillian, Randall Padgett, Gary Drinkard, Louis Griffin, Wesley Quick, James Cochran, and Charles Bufford are among those found not guilty of the crimes that originally put them on Alabama's death row.

EJI currently represents Anthony Hinton, who was convicted and sentenced to death for a crime that he did not commit. We are hopeful that a court will soon recognize that his trial was unfair and that he was not properly convicted.