A recent article in The Huffington Post explained that a record number of inmates were exonerated last year for crimes they did not commit.
The article opens by recounting the story of a Chicago area woman who awoke to find that her 4-year-old son had been strangled to death by an elastic bed sheet band. Chicago police interrogated the woman which prompted her confession. The problem is, she didn't commit the crime.
The woman said that she only confessed after police threatened her, verbally and physically abused her, refused to give her food and water, and wouldn't let her use the bathroom. Police coerced a confession, and the woman received a lengthy prison sentence. Last year, she was exonerated of her conviction and allowed to return home.
According to the National Registry of Exonerations, there have been 1,300 wrongful convictions since 1989. Last year alone, 87 people were cleared of crimes. The number of exonerations in 2013 just surpassed 2009, which was previously the number one year for exonerations with 81.
The large majority of individuals who are exonerated for their offenses are men. Only eight percent are women. The group that most commonly receives exonerations is African Americans, accounting for 47 percent of exonerations. Caucasians are 40 percent, Latinos are 11 percent and Native Americans are 2 percent.
Out of all individuals cleared of their crimes last year, 22 percent did not commit the alleged crime at all. So not only were the total number of exonerations last year higher than ever (since researchers began collecting this data), but the total number of exonerations in cases where no actual crime took place were also at an all-time high last year.
Another trend is in the realm of false guilty pleas. Like the Chicago woman, many individuals are convicted of various criminal offenses after pleading guilty to crimes they did not commit. This can be the result of duress from police investigators. It can also result from defendants desiring to take a plea agreement than chance going to trial and potentially receiving a guilty conviction with harsher penalties. According to the National Registry of Exonerations, 11 percent of all exonerations are for cases where the defendant falsely pled guilty.
"Unfortunately, no criminal justice system can ever be perfect. The sad reality is that innocent people will be sometimes be convicted. In thoroughly researching a criminal defense attorney, the idea is that by choosing the right person you are maximizing the chances that this doesn't happen to you or someone you love," said Attorney Jeremy Lessem.
The record number of people eligible for exoneration demonstrates the importance of selecting the right criminal defense attorney. Not only were many of the inmates exonerated, but also many were exonerated after being convicted of crimes when no actual crime took place at all.
Lessem continued, "The quality of your legal representation is certainly a huge factor in determining the ultimate outcome of your case."