Over the past quarter century, the US has incarcerated millions of people.
An alarming number of them were wrongly convicted, in some cases spending decades behind bars for crimes they did not commit, according to data from the University of Michigan’s National Registry of Exonerations.
Since 1989, 1,761 people have been exonerated based on new evidence of innocence.
The number of exonerations is skyrocketing, too. In 1989, 22 people were exonerated. Last year, that number peaked at 149.
Aizman Law Firm, a Los Angeles-based firm specializing in criminal defence, put together a graphic using data from Michigan’s registry to break down exonerations year by year:
That’s a whopping 18,350 years of time served between all the exonerated prisoners, according to Aizman.
The graphic also points out some of the most high-profile exonerated prisoners. Steven Avery, the subject of Netflix’s “Making a Murderer,” spent 18 years in prison on a wrongful sexual-assault conviction before being exonerated in 2003.
Walter Lomax spent nearly 40 years in jail on a wrongful murder charge before being released in 2006 and exonerated in 2014 — the longest time served before an exoneration.
The registry also breaks down the exonerated cases by state:
Washington, DC, leads the nation by far with more than two exonerations per 100,000 cases. The US attorney’s office set up a federal unit in Washington to correct wrongful convictions, which may have contributed to its high exoneration rate, according to Aizman.
The rate of exoneration in DC is almost as twice as high as it is in the next state, Illinois, and more than 30 times as high as that of the last state, Colorado.
While the University of Michigan registry tracks every known exoneration, it’s difficult to pinpoint the total number of people currently in prison on wrongful convictions.
According to one study from 2014, 4.1% of people sentenced to death are later found to be innocent.
The leading causes for wrongful convictions include forensic misconduct, eyewitness misidentification, and inadequate legal defence, according to the Innocence Project.
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