Not Guilty of a Crime That Didn’t Happen

Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.

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49 Responses

  1. Brandon Berg says:

    Fewer than 10% of the exonerations went to women. Just another sign of misogyny that pervades our society.Report

  2. Brandon Berg says:

    “Child sex abuse exonerations, by contrast, primarily involve false testimony by victims who fabricated crimes that never occurred at all.”Report

  3. Mike Schilling says:

    Good thing they weren’t Texans.Report

    • trumwill in reply to Mike Schilling says:

      Actually, Texas had the most of them.Report

      • zic in reply to trumwill says:


        From the link above:

        Dallas County in Texas, for instance, is towards the top of the standings for exonerations, but this is in large part a reflection of the election in 2006 of the county’s first African-American district attorney, who has created a Conviction Integrity Unit to identify sentencing problems as they arise. The high rate of exonerations is also partially explained by the policy of the forensic lab in Dallas to keep all biological samples indefinitely, a relatively rare practice in the US, which thus allows for DNA testing down the line.


      • Mike Schilling in reply to trumwill says:

        Well, a posthumous exoneration is something, anyway.Report

  4. Burt Likko says:

    Problems lie in a multiplicity of places: zealous prosecutors, judges acting under political pressure, uncritical juries, defense attorneys unable to do more than plea everyone out, cynical accusers looking to game one of many systems, a public conditioned to equate accusation with guilt. The list goes on from there, I’m sure.

    People complain that attorneys are prohibitively expensive, and they often are. But clearly, we aren’t putting enough resources into our justice system if we need to exonerate this many people, often of crimes that never happened.Report

    • Will Truman in reply to Burt Likko says:

      Honestly, if I thought that this was all, most, or at least a significant percentage of those who were convicted wrongly, I’d be on the whole pretty satisfied with our system. What’s disheartening is that these are just the ones we have found and the suspicion that the more we find, the more we have that are unfound.Report

    • Brandon Berg in reply to Burt Likko says:

      Needing to exonerate 87 people in a year doesn’t sound that bad, when you consider how many are convicted. Obviously, it’s bad for the 87 people who were falsely convicted, but that’s a very low false positive rate. The real question is how many needed to be exonerated but weren’t.Report

      • @brandon-berg

        Agreed completely with your last sentence.Report

      • notme in reply to Brandon Berg says:

        I saw this when it came out a couple of days ago and was talking to another lawyer friend about it. We were wondering the same thing given the total number of folks found guilty in a year. If the story had all the facts it might not seem so sensational and would be less appealing to liberals.Report

      • Rod in reply to Brandon Berg says:

        The total numbers and rate may seem low at first blush, but several other factors need to be considered.

        First, Innocence Projects necessarily focus their attention on capital cases. They don’t typically look at cases where an execution has already occurred. How many people are serving lesser sentences for false convictions on lesser charges? Also, really solid evidence like DNA only factors into some crimes.

        87 is likely just the tip of the berg, even allowing that most convictions are legit.Report

      • Yeah, the bigger question here is: of the cases that IP takes up, what percentage result in finding exculpatory evidence? It seems this is a pretty high percentage.Report

      • Tis worth noting that increasingly they are exonerating people for reasons other than DNA evidence. One of the things that the report points out is that the portion of them that DNA is falling.

        No grand ideological point here. I just found that interesting.Report

      • morat20 in reply to Brandon Berg says:

        87 people wasn’t the total number of innocent people sitting in jail. 87 was the number they found and proved to be innocent sufficiently that they were released.

        The real question is: How many TOTAL have they investigated — and as a second pass, how many do they strongly suspect innocence but have not managed to prove or have released?

        87/600,000 incarcerated is trivial.

        87/200 examined prisoners is…problematic in the extreme.

        I have no idea where the real numbers lie, but I’d be really shocked if the innocence project can investigate more than a few hundred — at most — cases a year.Report

      • Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Brandon Berg says:

        Also, how many have they investigated, found evidence of innocence, but are unable to get the DA or judiciary to take a second look, or worse, unable to get the DA to actually release the person.Report

    • Damon in reply to Burt Likko says:

      and those zealous prosecutors, judges acting under political pressure are immune from criminal and legal consecquences.

      DA’s dont select juries for their intelligence.
      The public thinks forensics solves everything in 60 minutes
      The labs are sloppy.Report

      • notme in reply to Damon says:

        “DA’s dont select juries for their intelligence.”

        Here is a newsflash. Defense attorneys don’t select jury members for their intelligence either. So don’t put this only on DAs.Report

      • Damon in reply to Damon says:

        Because DA’s are alledgedly responsilbe for ensuring “justice” and have the full power of the state backing them up.Report

    • notme in reply to Burt Likko says:


      You can always start a criminal defense practice if you think things are that bad.Report

    • Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Burt Likko says:

      Regarding uncritical juries, this seems like an issue with the jury selection allowing for attorneys to stack the jury with people unwilling to employ nullification. Or perhaps it is judge instructions?Report

  5. Tod Kelly says:

    Great find, Will.

    The most depressing part of this news? Everyone on either end of the law & order public-policy spectrums is going to read this and conclude it’s proof positive that their side was right all along.Report

    • Will Truman in reply to Tod Kelly says:

      My old coblogger really had a thing about (by which I mean “problem with”) the Innocence Project, which manifested itself in a couple of posts. I doubt he would agree with those sentiments today (indeed, the second post was more nuanced than the first), but I suspect such an approach isn’t too uncommon. Even granting the unqualified good of exonerating innocent people, there’s a lot of room in there to argue about what it means in the broader debate.Report

      • notme in reply to Will Truman says:

        I read the old blog post and found it interesting that the innocence project won’t release the number of confirmed guilty. They clearly just want to take the few they can exonerate and rush out to waiting liberal media and act indignant. I’ve lost what respect I had for them.Report

      • trumwill in reply to Will Truman says:

        All they do is give people who were wrongly convicted their lives back. What’s respectable about that?Report

      • And, how, exactly, is the innocence project confirming people’s guilt. Lacking the evidence to overturn a conviction is rather different from confirming guilt.Report

      • notme in reply to Will Truman says:


        If the DNA does match then I think that is confirmation, don’t you? the IP certainly won’t be out in front of the cameras proclaiming their innocence in that case, will they?Report

      • Chris in reply to Will Truman says:

        the IP certainly won’t be out in front of the cameras proclaiming their innocence in that case, will they?

        Also, if they can’t provide evidence to overturn a guilty verdict, in what sense is it bad that they would not then “be out in front of the cameras proclaiming their innocence?”

        You may be this site’s worst troll ever.Report

      • That would rather depend on the alibi at issue, wouldn’t it? Often it’s a question of whether someone else’s DNA is also present in a manner that is consistent with the defense’s alibi. But the absence of someone else’s DNA doesn’t mean much in IP cases because there’s little way to determine if all evidence was collected or if some evidence was destroyed, etc., etc.Report

      • @notme Also, exactly how large and powerful an organization do you think the IP is that the dozens of convictions it is able to overturn every year represent only an insignificant fraction of the cases they investigate every year?
        @chris I’m starting to think you’re right about that.Report

      • Stillwater in reply to Will Truman says:

        It’s weird to me that a group dedicated to correcting false convictions is being attacked for doing just that. If they were doing other stuff along the way – blowing up churches or pissing on the ten commandments – I could see viewing it as a political group. As it is, they’re not. Does the animosity derive from perceiving IP as affiliated with liberals? As expressing liberal values? It seems like more evidence of how far off the rails some conservatives have gone.Report

      • Glyph in reply to Will Truman says:

        I don’t pretend to be an expert on the deep mythology of The Family Circus, but I always thought Not Me was more of a gremlin.Report

      • For what it’s worth, the Innocence Project has said that they get an exonerating result about 50% of the time. That, of course, is out of the cases they choose which are obviously skewed to the most suspect of prosecutions. The false conviction rate is obviously not 50% (and IP doesn’t claim it is).Report

      • greginak in reply to Will Truman says:

        In the Family Circusverse, which is one of the lower levels of Heck, notme is a one of the little bratlings psychotic delusions.Report

      • notme in reply to Will Truman says:


        If the IP won’t release the numbers who is to say that the IP is really all that effective? Like I said before, they are ready to run to the waiting cameras with the people they can exonerate but are quiet about the others.Report

      • I think the 300+ people released from prison would argue that they are effective. This is a case where actual numbers matter more than percentages. Even if there are 3,000 that turned out to be guilty, the 300 is important because it released 300 people from wrongful convictions.Report

      • greginak in reply to Will Truman says:

        When a wrongly convicted person is exonerated it also shines some light on the DA and cops who have screwed up. That is a solid positive.Report

      • Glyph in reply to Will Truman says:

        Not to mention, admitting you had the wrong guy opens up the possibility of eventually actually getting the right guy. If only NotMe could focus on the fact that almost every wrongful conviction standing means that someone else is Getting Away With It (either the guy that really did it, or the false accuser) maybe he could be brought ’round.Report

      • notme in reply to Will Truman says:

        greg and glyph:

        Glad you both care enough to make fun of me. I’m happy to annoy liberals.

        I would be happy to see the IP make as much noise about when the system works as when it doesn’t but that wouldn’t bring in the money. Kind of like the original topic here, 87 exonerations may sound like a lot but really isn’t when you consider the total number of folks found guilty in a year.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Will Truman says:

        Give it up, Glyph. You’re a liberal.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Will Truman says:

        lmost every wrongful conviction standing means that someone else is Getting Away With It (either the guy that really did it, or the false accuser)

        Or the BS artist crime lab or expert witness.Report

      • kenB in reply to Will Truman says:

        I don’t know much about the Innocence Project, but I’d say that if their only concern is overturning wrongful convictions, then it would be crazy for anyone to oppose them, but if they’re also advocating for changes to the criminal justice system, then the fact that they also exonerate the innocent doesn’t mean that they’re above criticism or that someone who disagrees with their politics can’t reasonably decide that the negatives of their political advocacy outweighs the positives of their exonerations. At that point it just turns into a difference of opinion about the current state of the criminal justice system.

        Obviously NotMe is swimming against the current on this (as on many other issues), but that doesn’t make him/her a troll.Report

      • Stillwater in reply to Will Truman says:

        Good comment kenB. If recent history has taught us anything, it’s that everything is a political issue.

        I just looked at the IP Wikipedia page and saw that it’s widely credited with the rising tide against capital punishment. So … it’s political. Especially if you think executing a few innocent people is a tolerable price to pay to keep the practice up and running.Report

      • Trumwill in reply to Will Truman says:

        Ken, their advocacy is fair game. But the fact that they put their money where their mouth is insulates the organization as a whole from criticism, unless you can take issue with their works and not just their ideas. If you take issue with the organization as a whole, you’re taking issue with an organization that has been doing something that everybody should support, even if they are also saying bad things.

        The issue that Web and NotMe took/take issue with is that they haven’t released hard data on how many non-exonerations they have. That might matter from a standpoint of their advocacy, if they are being evasive in their presentation of the facts, but not so much the group’s works, which involves a lot of freeing of innocent people. The notion that their works are overshadowed by their advocacy strikes me as weak.Report

      • notme in reply to Will Truman says:


        I think the IP cause is a good one but they undercut their credibility by hiding the data. As I said before they only rush to the cameras for the publicity but no one knows the whole story. They want to make injustice seem omnipresent to keep the money rolling in. Sorry but no organization is perfect no matter how noble they believe their cause may be.Report

      • Even if I cared that an advocacy group has the gall not to be neutral, a difference between saying that they are not perfect and suggesting that the group is not worthy of any respect.Report

      • Thanks! I’d mentioned that IP said it was about 50/50 and that’s about right (excluding inconclusive cases) but didn’t know that they actually had more precise numbers.

        Also from the link, to add to what Glyph is saying:

        In more than 40% of all DNA exoneration cases, law enforcement authorities identify the actual perpetrator based on the same DNA test results that overturned the wrongful conviction.