America’s criminal justice system is supposed to be fair, impartial and above all, as accurate as possible. Unfortunately, the statistics on criminal justice accuracy are not promising. In recent decades, researchers and advocacy groups like the Innocence Project have been tracking (and desperately trying to correct) wrongful convictions in the United States.
What they have found is alarming. The National Registry of Exonerations has been tracking all U.S. exonerations dating back to 1989. According to the most recent report, wrongfully convicted prisoners have lost a combined 20,000 years behind bars.
Last year was especially noteworthy. In 2018, the NRE noted 151 exonerations of innocent individuals. They had spent a combined 1,600 years behind bars (about 11 years per person, on average). When digging into the details of the 2018 exonerations and those from earlier, disturbing patterns emerge:
- A significant number of convictions based false confessions (usually coerced)
- A high number of convictions attributed to misconduct by law enforcement and other officials
- A high number of convictions in which the alleged crime never even happened (including cases where defendants were framed by law enforcement)
We must hope that in time, the work of advocacy groups and greater public awareness will help push through real criminal justice reforms and curb the problem of wrongful convictions. In the meantime, it is vitally important for each of us to fully assert our rights when charged with or accused of a crime.
If you’ve been falsely accused of a crime, the criminal justice process doesn’t necessarily end with conviction. You may be able to avail yourself of the appeals process with the help of an experienced criminal defense attorney.