California Best at Exonerating Wrongly Convicted, to the Disappointment of Prop. 34 Foes

Friday, November 02, 2012


California leads the nation in exonerations of people wrongly convicted of crimes, according to preliminary findings by the California Wrongful Convictions Project.

The early numbers indicate that 214 people have been unfairly incarcerated since 1989, resulting in them serving 1,300 years behind bars at a cost to taxpayers of $129 million. Around 40% of those wrongly convicted were initially sentenced to 20 years or more in prison, including many with life sentences and some facing the death penalty.

Of those unfairly incarcerated, 120 were exonerated of committing the crimes, compared to Illinois (110), Texas (100) and New York (100).

The preliminary data release was immediately assailed by foes of Proposition 34, an initiative on the November 6 ballot that would eliminated the state death penalty, as a lame political stunt based on incomplete data and devoid of context. A statement from Sutter County District Attorney and California District Attorneys Association (CDAA) President Carl V. Adams argued that the number of wrongly convicted was dwarfed by the successful 5 million adult felony convictions during the same time period.

“Issuing a press release in late October to announce that a report will be published next year is a cheap political vehicle to try to influence the upcoming election,” Adams said.

Reasons for dismissal of cases include official misconduct, insufficient evidence, findings of innocence, ineffective defense and legal error. One-fourth of the wrongful convictions grew out of the Los Angeles Rampart police scandal in the late 1990s in which people were framed by the authorities.

Excluding those official misconduct cases, the project reported that contributing factors to a wrongful conviction included: perjury or false accusation (42% of the cases); official misconduct by police or prosecutors (39%); mistaken eyewitness ID (26%); lousy defense counsel (19%); and DNA evidence (less than 6%).

The project is a joint endeavor of the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law and Hollway Advisory Services, a criminal justice research firm.

A detailed report will be released in 2013.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

California Leads Nation in Exonerations of Wrongfully Convicted (California Wrongful Convictions Project)

Prosecutors Condemn “Wrongful Convictions” Statement (Vote No on 34 campaign)

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