The number of exonerations in the United States of those wrongly convicted of a crime increased to a record 87 during 2013, and of that number, nearly one in five had initially pleaded guilty to charges filed against them, according to a report to be released on Tuesday as part of a project led by two university law schools.
The report, which I skimmed, is interesting. It discusses the causes of the exonerations:
For all exonerations, the most common causal factors that we have identified are: perjury or false accusation (56%); official misconduct (46%); and mistaken eyewitness identification (38%).
For homicide exonerations, the leading cause of false conviction is perjury or false accusations, mostly deliberate misidentifications. Homicide cases also include a high rate of official misconduct, and 75% of all false confessions in the database.
The great majority of sexual assault and robbery exonerations include mistaken eyewitness identifications, mostly by the victims. Many sexual assault cases also include bad forensic evidence.
All of this is fascinating. But one aspect of the article and report is worthy of mention: the article and report treat these cases as exonerations. But these cases do not necessarily involve convicted persons who were innocent. Rather, the report often includes cases where there was enough new evidence to vacate the conviction and the prosecutors decided not to have a new trial. Typically, this means that there was some mistake at the original trial, but it does not prove that the person is innocent. Still, if the defendant’s trial was seriously faulty, it is appropriate to vacate it and that may lead to release.