The rise of exonerations is good and bad. Good for the innocent people who are exonerated, freed, and hopefully compensated in some way for the injustice done to them; bad, in the sense that the ample supply of people to exonerate is an indication of scary flaws present in our criminal justice system. Here are some key figures about exonerations in 2014, from the annual report of the National Registry of Exonerations, which was released today:
- There were 125 recorded exonerations in 2014, compared to 91 in each of the past two years. More than 30 of the exonerations came in Harris County, Texas alone, but the number of total exonerations was still a record even without the Harris County cases.
- Six defendants who had been sentenced to death were exonerated in 2014, the most since 2009.
- "In 58 of the 125 known exonerations in 2014—46%—no crime in fact occurred."
- Forty seven of last year's exonerations were of defendants who had pleaded guilty, a record high number.
- More than half of last year's exonerations "were obtained at the intiative or with the cooperation of law enforcement," a record percentage. Across the nation, law enforcement agencies are systematically examining cases for possible exonerations.
The most encouraging development would be for exoneration numbers to fall even though everyone was searching closely for possible innocent people in prison. Until then, the current trends are the best we can hope for.