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Record number of prisoners, falsely convicted of crimes, exonerated in 2013

Dana Gethers | 2/11/2014, 10:47 a.m.
A recent report reveals that a record 87 exonerations occurred in 2013, bringing the total to 1,304 known exonerations in ...
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A recent report reveals that a record 87 exonerations occurred in 2013, bringing the total to 1,304 known exonerations in the last 25 years, according to The National Registry of Exonerations.

The registry, a joint project of the University of Michigan Law School and the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law, provides detailed information about every known exoneration in the United States since 1989. These are cases in which a person was wrongly convicted of a crime and later cleared of the charges in light of new evidence.

Out of the ten U.S states with the most exonerations last year, New York is third with 8 total. This is compared to the 16,077 total jail population in New York counties outside of the city as of Jan. 2014, according to criminaljustice.ny.gov.

Despite the relatively low number, “exonerations are on the rise and a lot of the credit goes to prosecutors and police who are increasingly active in investigating possible false convictions,” said the registry’s editor and the author of the report, Samuel Gross.

The registry reveals that, as of Jan. 1, of the 1,281 individual exonerations from January 1989 through December 2013, 92% were men, and almost 50% were black.

“There are many false convictions that we don’t know about,” he said. “The exonerations we know about are only the tip of the iceberg.”

One of the more recent exonerations is that of Adam Tatum, a Tennessee resident who was convicted of assaulting policemen and possessing marijuana. He was sentenced to nearly 2 years in prison before video surveillance revealed the officers brutally beating him with metal batons so severely that he needed surgery to fix his legs afterwards. The officers were fired and Tatum settled a lawsuit for $125,000 in Dec. 2013.

“More people are now paying attention to wrongful convictions. Police, prosecutors, judges and the public are all more aware of the danger of convicting innocent defendants,” he said.

See the consistently updated registry at exonerationregistry.org.