The Frequency of Wrongful Conviction Examined

Innocent until proven guilty, the courts say. But what about the innocent who are convicted wrongfully?

According to The National Registry of Exonerations, there were 151 exonerations in 2018. That brings the total number of years lost to exonerees since they started recording in 1989 to more than 21,000, at an average of 10.9 years lost per exoneree. Since 1989, a total of 2,372 individuals have been exonerated in the United States.

Three of the exonerations in 2018 were individuals from here in Florida.

What were the most common causes for wrongful convictions among this group?

According to the raw data and the New York Times article analyzing its contents, the leading cause of wrongful convictions among this group is official misconduct. A publicized scandal in Chicago, in which police officers framed people on drug charges, accounted for nearly one-third of these official misconduct convictions.

Misleading forensic evidence is another problematic cause, due to the blind faith judges and juries place in experts in courtrooms—even if their evidence is scientifically unsubstantiated.

What crimes were these individuals exonerated for?

  • 66 for homicide
  • 47 for non-violent crimes, including drug crimes, fraud, theft and traffic offenses
  • 17 for sexual assault
  • 16 for violent crimes

Who exonerates these individuals?

There are two organizations that work to exonerate the wrongfully convicted:

  • Conviction Integrity Units are sections of prosecutorial offices that work to identify and correct wrongful convictions. Conviction Integrity Units facilitated fifty-eight of the exonerations that took place in 2018.
  • Innocence Organizations are non-governmental organizations that help secure exonerations for the wrongfully convicted. In 2018, they facilitated 86 exonerations.

Wrongful convictions happen all too frequently. The rate at which exonerations happen, which likely represent only a small portion of actual wrongful convictions, is evidence of this issue. The courts say innocent until proven guilty—but innocence persists. Wrongful conviction does not have to be the end.