The University of Michigan Law School and the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern Law School have launched a new project called the National Registry of Exonerations. Its purpose is to raise public awareness about exonerations, those who have been exonerated, and reasons other than DNA for exonerations.
“The era of DNA post-conviction exoneration is going to end because all DNA testing will be done prior to trial,” says Rob Warden, executive director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions. Warden worked with Michigan law professor Samuel Gross to compile the registry. “It was really important to document these other factors and other problems in the justice system, particularly false confessions.”
Since 1989, more than 2,000 wrongfully convicted people have been exonerated in the United States. The most common factors contributing to the false convictions were perjury or false accusation, mistaken eyewitness identification, official misconduct, false or misleading forensic evidence, and false confession. Among these factors was also failure to use available DNA evidence.
The registry will be a resource for journalists and researchers who wish to examine case examples and raw data.
“I would expect that this will touch off further investigation of phenomena such as recantations and false confessions and the use of jailhouse snitch testimony,” says Warden. “My hope is that there will be additional research and spinoffs on this. Some of those, we’re going to do ourselves.”