In a prior post, we highlighted how President Obama issued pardons to eight people serving long sentences due to what were described as minor drug offenses involving crack cocaine. While this was a manifestation of the shift in drug policy in the U.S. it may pale in comparison to the prisoners being set free due to the increased use of DNA testing in violent crime cases.
According to a report detailing the findings of a joint study by the University of Michigan Law School and the Northwestern School of Law, more people who were previously convicted of crimes have been released after post-conviction investigations revealed that the criminal justice system convicted those who were actually innocent.
In 2013, 87 offenders were released after investigations revealed their innocence. This number was higher compared to the number of people released in 2012, and it was the highest number of people exonerated in one year since the 1960’s. The irony of the report is that fewer people were released due to investigations involving DNA evidence. In fact, second reviews of initial law enforcement investigations prompted a number of conviction reversals.
In North Carolina, two exonerations were made official last year. The state of Texas led all states in exonerations with 13. This is not only a testament to the work that criminal defense attorneys do, it is an example that everyday people may not have the resources to properly defend themselves (and find exculpatory evidence to clear themselves). Because of this, it is important to have experienced legal counsel if you are charged with a crime.
Source: WSJ.com, “Criminal exonerations at all time high,” Jacob Gresham, Feb.4, 2014