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False convictions: 10,000 years in prison

Today during our "What Now" segment, we had a lively discussion about false convictions, and the toll they take on defendants' lives. 

Nearly 900 defendants wrongfully convicted of serious crimes in the U.S. in the past 23 years spent a combined total of more than 10,000 years in prison, according to a new database called the “National Registry for Exonerations.”   

It was set up by as a joint project by the University of Michigan Law School and the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law. The website states the registry “maintain[s] an up to date list of all known exonerations in the United States since 1989.”

As of Monday morning, the database had detailed information on the exonerations of 873 people falsely convicted of crimes over the last 23 years. Researchers also know of nearly 1,200 other exonerations, but have less data on these. 

University of Michigan law professor Samuel Gross, who is the editor of the registry, told the Associated Press, "We know there are many more that we haven't found.”  

WRONGFULLY CONVICTED: "93% of the 873 exonerated defendants were men; 50% were African-American, 38% white and 11% Hispanic. The defendants each spent an average of more than 11 years behind bars." 



summary report


The report also points out that of the 873 exonerations, nearly half involved homicide cases, including 101 death sentences. 305 involved sexual assaults. DNA evidence helped in part to clear 37% of the cases.

Researchers also write, “There is no official record keeping system for exonerations,” but believe “the existence of the National Registry will generate better information.”  

For more on the exonerations database and our panel's reaction, check out the full "What Now" segment embedded above ("Falsely Convicted" follows the "Notre Dame Lawsuit" discussion).