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A study finds that 2015 was a record year for exonerations

A research group that has recorded 1,733 exonerations since 1989 in the United States cites 2015 as a banner year.

The record number of convictions that have been overturned comes as there is a new emphasis on reforming the criminal justice system.

A common event

The study released in 2016 by the National Registry of Exonerations shows that there were 149 exonerations in 2015, a record number for one year. Although these events took place in over half of all states, many occurred in and around Houston, Texas, and involved drug possession. The study also found an increase in cases where there were false guilty pleas or confessions.

How convictions happen

An arrest for a violent crime may involve such issues as spurious accusations, lack of impartiality by witnesses or mistakes made by law enforcement officials. Some people make bogus guilty pleas in the effort to shorten prison sentences.  

Who gets out

For years, there has been a steady growth of incarcerations, which has caused some attorneys to go back over the cases to determine whether justice had indeed been served. Of the people who received exonerations in 2015, more than a third had received murder convictions. All had been in prison for an average of 14 years and five had been on death row. In cases involving drug possession, the National Registry report shows that in some instances, the materials under scrutiny were not illegal drugs at all, as it turned out.

Help for those arrested

A criminal complaint does not often tell the true story. For example, law enforcement officers can be prejudicial, such as in the case when the police in the District of Columbia framed an innocent man for murder. As a result, he spent 27 years in prison. Anyone who faces criminal charges needs to take action at the outset, or the very real possibility exists that he or she will wait for years behind bars for an exoneration that may never come.

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