NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Exonerations on DNA Evidence Mount

January 18, 2002

Many criminal justice experts had once predicted that the number of persons wrongfully convicted of crimes and subsequently exonerated on DNA evidence would decline over the years. The theory was that the pool of questionable convictions would shrink -- leaving fewer and fewer candidates for case reviews.

But the exact opposite has happened, according to data from The Innocence Project, an advocacy group that pioneered the use of DNA tests to free wrongfully convicted inmates. It plans to announce the 100th DNA exoneration today.

DNA exonerations entail comparing the unique genetic code of a convict with biological evidence left at a crime scene.

  • Nearly half of the 100 exonerations which started in 1989 occurred in the past three years.
  • In the period 1989 through 1991, there were only five exonerations -- compared to 46 in the past three years, including 20 in 2001 alone.
  • After the procedure was perfected in the early 1990s, many prosecutors began using DNA tests to eliminate suspects before filing charges.
  • Ninety-one of the 100 exonerations involved sexual assault cases.

Experts say the recent increase in exonerations can be traced to improved DNA tests, publicity about successful cases, and a growing number of lawyers and law students who are working to clear people they think were wrongfully convicted.

Source: Richard Willing, "Increasing DNA Exonerations Contradict Predictions," USA Today, January 18, 2002.


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