A report by the National Registry of Exonerations, which tracks persons exonerated of crimes across the country, makes for an interesting read. Statistics for California present an especially intriguing picture.
The registry currently records more than 885 cases nationally involving persons who were exonerated. Cases have been recorded since 1989, when the first person was exonerated after DNA evidence came to light. DNA is the major factor in most of the exonerations in the registry, or 40% of all exonerations.
Additionally, at least 1,170 defendants were cleared as part of group exonerations. In these cases, investigations later revealed that police had deliberately framed innocent persons. Most of the persons who were cleared as part of group exonerations were in jail for drug and gun crimes.
The registry data only confirms what many criminal defense attorneys know – far too many people every year are convicted wrongly and unfairly. That’s part of the reason why the registry has been established – to ensure that people have access to information, and know that the system doesn’t always work the way it should.
Upon drilling further into California data, it emerges that San Mateo, Monterey and Contra Costa Counties have at least one exoneration each included in the registry. The registry records 20 exonerations for Los Angeles County.
False accusation was a major factor in at least 51% of the false convictions ofhomicides, robberies, rapes and other crimes. In 43% of the cases, mistaken eyewitness identification was a factor, and in 42% of the cases, official misconduct was blamed for the wrongful conviction. Misleading forensic evidence and false confessions were found to be other contributing factors in these wrongful convictions.