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July 5, 2012

"Exonerations in the United States, 1989–2012"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper by Samuel Gross and Michael Shaffer now up at SSRN.  Here is the abstract:

This study presents and analyzes data on the first 873 exonerations reported by the National Registry of Exonerations, exonerationsregistry.org, a new project of the University of Michigan Law School and the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law.  The Registry assembles and posts information on exonerations of people who were convicted of serious crimes in the United States.

The database, which includes exonerations from January 1989 through February 2012, is larger and more diverse than any comparable collection.  Over 60% of the cases did not involve DNA evidence.  Earlier datasets were limited almost entirely to rape and murder cases, but more than 150 of these exonerations were for convictions that did not involve homicide or sexual assault, and more than 100 of the sexual assault exonerations were from child sex abuse convictions.

The study also describes over 1100 additional 'group exonerations' that occurred in the aftermath of 12 scandals around the country in which police officers systematically planted or fabricated evidence to frame defendants for non-existent crimes, usually drug crimes.

The major findings of the study include:

(1) The composition and distribution of the exonerations we know about lead to the inescapable conclusion that they are a small fraction of all false convictions for serious felonies.  (Exonerations for lesser felonies and misdemeanors are almost entirely absent from the data.)  The known cases also strongly suggest that most exonerations escape notice as well.

(2) The causes of false convictions vary greatly by crime.  For homicides, which account for nearly half of all exonerations in the study, the leading cause of error was perjury and other false accusations -- usually deliberate false identification of the defendant as the criminal.  Homicide exonerations also include a high rate of official misconduct and three-quarters of all false confessions in the study.  For adult sexual assault cases, and for the much smaller number of robbery exonerations, the leading cause of error was mistaken witness identifications.  Sexual assault exonerations also include a large number of cases with false or misleading forensic evidence.  Most child sex abuse exonerations, by contrast, were based on fabricated crimes: the defendants were accused and convicted of crimes that never occurred.

Judging from these data, the conviction of innocent defendants is not a single problem but several distinct problems, depending on the nature of the underlying crime.

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July 5, 2012 at 04:35 AM | Permalink


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sounds like that old book the BIBLE knew what it was talking about. absent 2 or MORE witnesses there WAS NO CRIME!

Posted by: rodsmith | Jul 5, 2012 11:57:21 AM

How nice --- Cops systematically planting drugs to fabricate cases against innocent people. Isn't the war on drugs lovely? It's not enough to put people in cages for their voluntary, knowing ingestion of substances? Drug warriors need to frame innocent people in their crazed war? Isn't it well past time for this stupidity to stop?

From Reason Magazine:

New York Times: What Do You Get From A Drug War Costing $25 Billion Annually? Cocaine 74 Percent Cheaper Than It Was 30 Years Ago

Ronald Bailey

New York Times reporter Eduardo Porter has a terrific column, Numbers Tell of Failure in Drug War, excoriating the stupidity and tragedy of the War on Drugs in the July 4 issue. Here are just a few tidbits:

When policy makers in Washington worry about Mexico these days, they think in terms of a handful of numbers: Mexico’s 19,500 hectares devoted to poppy cultivation for heroin; its 17,500 hectares growing cannabis; the 95 percent of American cocaine imports brought by Mexican cartels through Mexico and Central America.

They are thinking about the wrong numbers. If there is one number that embodies the seemingly intractable challenge imposed by the illegal drug trade on the relationship between the United States and Mexico, it is $177.26. That is the retail price, according to Drug Enforcement Administration data, of one gram of pure cocaine from your typical local pusher. That is 74 percent cheaper than it was 30 years ago.

This number contains pretty much all you need to evaluate the Mexican and American governments’ “war” to eradicate illegal drugs from the streets of the United States. They would do well to heed its message. What it says is that the struggle on which they have spent billions of dollars and lost tens of thousands of lives over the last four decades has failed. ...

...conceived to eradicate the illegal drug market, the war on drugs cannot be won. Once they understand this, the Mexican and American governments may consider refocusing their strategies to take aim at what really matters: the health and security of their citizens, communities and nations.

Prices match supply with demand. If the supply of an illicit drug were to fall, say because the Drug Enforcement Administration stopped it from reaching the nation’s shores, we should expect its price to go up.

That is not what happened with cocaine. Despite billions spent on measures from spraying coca fields high in the Andes to jailing local dealers in Miami or Washington, a gram of cocaine cost about 16 percent less last year than it did in 2001. The drop is similar for heroin and methamphetamine. The only drug that has not experienced a significant fall in price is marijuana.

And it’s not as if we’ve lost our taste for the stuff, either. About 40 percent of high school seniors admit to having taken some illegal drug in the last year — up from 30 percent two decades ago, according to the Monitoring the Future survey, financed by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

The use of hard drugs, meanwhile, has remained roughly stable over the last two decades, rising by a few percentage points in the 1990s and declining by a few percentage points over the last decade, with consumption patterns moving from one drug to another according to fashion and ease of purchase.....

Jeffrey Miron, an economist at Harvard who studies drug policy closely, has suggested that legalizing all illicit drugs would produce net benefits to the United States of some $65 billion a year, mostly by cutting public spending on enforcement as well as through reduced crime and corruption.

Go read the whole article. Of course, Reason has been against the War on Drugs for, oh say, ever since it began publicaton nearly 50 years ago. Go here for Reason's extensive archive on the asininity of the War on Drugs.

Posted by: Calif. Capital Defense Counsel | Jul 5, 2012 3:55:20 PM

Police misconduct is a significant factor in a number of wrongful convictions.

From CATO:

New Cato Site Tracks Police Misconduct
By Cato Institute on Tue, 22 May 2012 07:53:00 -0400

No one disputes the idea that police misconduct is wrong, but reasonable people do disagree about the scope of the problem and how it ought to be addressed. In an effort to track allegations of police misconduct so policymakers can make informed assessments of its nature and circumstances, the Cato Institute has launched the National Police Misconduct Reporting Project at PoliceMisconduct.net. Our objective is to identify policies that consistently uphold high standards of ethics, honesty, and professionalism from police officers and critique the policies that do not.

Follow PoliceMisconduct.net on Twitter
Follow PoliceMisconduct.net on Facebook

Posted by: Calif. Capital Defense Counsel | Jul 5, 2012 11:47:39 PM

hmm THEY LAUCHED! damn here i though it was launched by some poor sucker and they simply refused to help him support it tell he had to give it up and they got it.

another set of lieing fucktard govt hacks!

Posted by: rodsmith | Jul 6, 2012 3:36:44 PM

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