The National Registry of Exonerations, a brand-new joint project between Northwestern University and the University of Michigan, released its first report on Monday. To date, it has examined nearly 900 individual cases of prisoners exonerated in the United States from January, 1989 through February, 2012.
“The National Registry of Exonerations gives an unprecedented view of the scope of the problem of wrongful convictions in the United States,” said Rob Warden, executive director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions. “It’s a widespread problem.”
In the criminal justice system, the police and the district attorneys, ostensibly, represent the people. But policemen and lawyers are all too human, susceptible to errors and mistakes that the report determines they had little incentive to acknowledge and correct. You’d think that their goal would be, primarily, accuracy – to find and punish the guilty while vindicating and protecting the innocent. But for a prosecutor to challenge the evidence or confessions supplied by the police is to damage that relationship, and call into question the competency and authority of both institutions.
One wrongful conviction or execution is one too many, and the NRE’s report demonstrates they happen fairly frequently. As such, it’s worth calling many more convictions into question.