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Report finds record number of US exonerations in 2015

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HOUSTON The U.S. saw a record number of exonerations in 2015, with nearly 40 per cent of the cases involving individuals who were exonerated in homicides, a new report shows.

The National Registry of Exonerations said in its report Wednesday that 149 people falsely convicted of crimes were exonerated last year. That’s 10 more than in 2014, the year with the previous highest total since the group began keeping records in 1989. The registry is a project of the University of Michigan Law School and has documented more than 1,730 such cases in the U.S.

Since 2011, the annual number of exonerations has more than doubled and there are now an average of nearly three exonerations a week, said Samuel Gross, a University of Michigan law professor and registry editor.

“What’s driving it? Continuing increased interest and sensitivity and concern about the problem but also a focus on increasing activity by conviction integrity units,” Gross said. The integrity units are divisions in various district attorney offices around the country that identify and correct false convictions.

Texas, the second most populous state, had the most exonerations with 54. New York, the fourth most populous, was second with 17.

Homicides and sex crimes made up nearly half of all exonerations in the U.S. According to the registry, a record 58 defendants who were exonerated in 2015 had been convicted of homicide, with five having received death sentences and 19 having been sentenced to life in prison.

The report also said there was a record 27 exonerations in 2015 for convictions based on false confessions, with 22 of those in homicide cases. Also, 44 of the 58 homicide case exonerations involved cases in which there was official misconduct by authorities.

“The thing that is most troubling to me about these cases is it’s clear that for every innocent defendant who is convicted and later exonerated, there are several others who are convicted who are not exonerated because almost all the exonerations depend on a great extent on good fortune, on Lady Luck,” Gross said.

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