Record number of exonerations in 2013

Of the exonerations last year, a considerable percentage involved a crime that never even occurred

Published February 4, 2014 2:48PM (EST)


In recent years the number of individuals exonerated in the U.S. for false convictions has risen. According to newly released statistics from the National Registry of Exonerations, 87 known exonerations occurred in 2013, more than any previous year on record. At least 1,304 prisoners falsely convicted of crimes were exonerated over the past 25 years.

Notable of last year's exonerations, a considerable percentage involved not only a false conviction but no crime at all having taken place. "27 of the 87 known exonerations that occurred in 2013 -- almost one-third of the total number for the year -- were in cases in which no crime in fact occurred, a record number," the registry noted in a release.

While the assumption might be that improvements in forensic sciences would have prompted the uptick in exonerations (relating to DNA testing), in fact the the number of exonerations in which DNA played a role has gradually declined since 2005, and only represented about a fifth of the total number of exonerations in 2013. In recent decades, though, to be sure, DNA testing has played a significant role.

However, as Michigan Law professor Samuel Gross, editor of the Registry and an author of the report, noted, "The exonerations we know about are only the tip of the iceberg.” He stated that "there are many false convictions that we don’t know about."

And indeed, in the nation with the highest incarceration rate in the world, with a remaining 32 death penalty states, an uptick in exonerations countable in double digits alone is but a meniscus-thin silver lining.

By Natasha Lennard

Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email

MORE FROM Natasha Lennard

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Crime Dna Exonerations False Convictions Justice Prison