Exonerees in 2018 Lost a Record Number of Years to Wrongful Imprisonment

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Five exonerated individuals in the Capitol in January 2018

Conviction Integrity Units in prosecutors’ offices have tripled since 2013

(From Press Release) – In 2018, the National Registry of Exonerations recorded 151 exonerations, setting a record for the number of years lost to prison for crimes the exonerees did not commit. All told, innocent people who were exonerated in 2018 spent 1,639 years in prison with an average of 10.9 years lost per exoneree. Two of the longest-serving defendants in the Registry were exonerated in 2018: Richard Phillips who served 45 years and two months for murder in Michigan and Wilbert Jones who served 44 years and nine months for sexual assault in Louisiana. The Registry now includes more than 2,400 innocent people who wrongfully served more than 21,000 years.

Read the report “Exonerations in 2018” at http://bit.ly/ExonsIn2018

The 151 exonerations included at least 107 with official misconduct by police, prosecutors, or other government officials – a record high. Fifty-four homicides – 79 percent of homicide exonerations in 2018 – involved official misconduct.

Thirty-one – almost one-third of the cases with official misconduct – involved a long-running police corruption scheme in Chicago where Sergeant Ronald Watts and other officers framed people on drug charges when they refused to pay bribes or turn on others. After a federal investigation and the convictions of Watts and one other officer, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Conviction Integrity Unit, together with the Exoneration Project at the University of Chicago School of Law and Chicago law firms, re-investigated dozens of cases involving Watts.

Because of the Sgt. Watts scandal, Illinois had the most exonerations in 2018 by far – 49 – followed by New York (16); Texas (16); Michigan (9); and California (6).

The report documents the growth and importance of “professional exonerators,” including nongovernmental Innocence Organizations and Conviction Integrity Units (CIUs) within prosecutors’ offices. There were 44 CIUs in the United States in 2018, almost three times the number as five years ago. The CIU in Wayne County, Michigan opened in 2018 and has already produced six exonerations, with four in 2018 and two in 2019.

“The proliferation of new CIUs in the last year gives us reason to think that the trend will continue, and that we may see even more prosecutors’ offices undertaking efforts to identify and correct wrongful convictions that occurred in their jurisdictions. While some are likely to continue to serve as little more than window dressing, many show signs of serious commitment to robust conviction review,” said Michigan State University Law Professor Barbara O’Brien, the Editor of the National Registry of Exonerations and the author of the report.


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