The National Registry of Exonerations is an amazing website providing detailed information on over 1,050 known exonerations since 1989. This is an incredible number.
Imagine the work necessary to get even one exoneration – many hundreds of hours pouring over old transcripts, retesting evidence (sometimes decades old), and fighting these convictions in a systems inherently biased towards finality. And nearly all the work on these cases was done pro bono publico (for free)!
Great work on this sad monument to injustice. No doubt these 1,050 individuals represent only a small fraction of the wrongful convictions that happen daily. Nearly all the documented wrongful convictions come from the tiny minority of cases where the defendant was sentenced to the death or life imprisonment. The vast majority of cases in the system are simple thefts, domestic violence, and drug crimes. Given the limited resources of the various innocence projects across the country, and the length of the exoneration court process itself (usually years of court hearings), lower-level crimes are almost never given this treatment. Most wrongfully convicted individuals serve their sentences – usually a few weeks to a few years – and then try to get on with their lives as best they can.
This website exists to help effect change – to help scholars look for patterns of injustice so that the system might reform. This defense attorney remains hopeful that some reforms will come, but sadly, the news of exonerations and systemic flaws has been widely reported for many years, and reforms to stop wrongful convictions have been few and feeble.