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Record number of prisoners exonerated in 2015

| Feb 17, 2016 | Criminal Defense |

Florida residents are likely familiar with cases involving innocent individuals who were freed from prison after spending years behind bars. These wrongly-convicted individuals are usually exonerated when new evidence emerges or witnesses change their stories, but they are sometimes released after prosecutors have conducted reviews of their questionable cases. A National Registry of Exonerations report released on Feb. 3 revealed that 149 prisoners were exonerated in 2015, and the researchers gave much of the credit for this record figure to prosecutors who have established conviction integrity units.

The National Registry of Exonerations is a University of Michigan project, and its report reveals that the individuals exonerated in 2015 were in prison for an average of 15 years before being freed. The criminal justice system has been roundly criticized for the poor treatment often received by minorities and the poor, and the 2015 exonerations report seems to support these criticisms. About two-thirds of those exonerated in 2015 were members of an ethnic minority, and about half of them were black.

A prosecutor in California established the first of the nation’s conviction integrity units in 2002, and its work has been widely lauded by civil rights advocates. According to the report, more than a third of the wrongly convicted individuals released in 2015 were exonerated due to the efforts of a single conviction integrity unit in Texas.

The report also revealed that 27 of the individuals exonerated in 2015 made false confessions. Police officers are often skillful interrogators, and they often mislead or emotionally manipulate suspects during questioning. However, the accused have rights, and defense attorneys may seek to protect their clients by providing advice during questioning and objecting to any questions that are not directly relevant to the investigation concerned.

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