2013 was a record-breaking year for exonerations in the United States, according to statistics compiled by the National Registry of Exonerations.

David Ranta speaks with reporters after being freed by a judge in March 2013. Ranta spent more than two decades in prison before a reinvestigation of his case cast serious doubt on evidence used to convict him in the shooting of a Brooklyn rabbi.

NPR – “At least 87 people were set free for crimes they did not commit last year, the highest number since researchers began keeping track more than 20 years ago. Some of those people spent decades in prison before release.

And it’s no longer just DNA evidence that’s driving exonerations, the registry’s report finds. It’s because police and prosecutors have been more willing to investigate themselves.

“It’s taken a while for people to begin to believe these unfortunate and very distasteful facts,” says Samuel Gross, a University of Michigan law professor who edits the registry, a joint project between Michigan and Northwestern University’s law school.

“The number of exonerations — and the number, in particular, of ones where police officers and prosecutors have initiated the process or cooperated in the process — has grown dramatically,” he says.

Conviction Integrity Units

Only one-fifth of the exonerations last year relied on newly tested DNA. More than 30 percent occurred because law enforcement agencies reopened a long-closed case or handed over their records to someone else who wanted to take a look.

Gross says that’s a sea change from just 10 years ago.

“The sharp, cold shower that DNA gave to the criminal justice system has made us realize that we have to re-examine other cases as well,” he says. “That was a serious wake-up call, because that showed we made mistakes in a lot of cases where it never occurred to anybody that a mistake had been made.” Full Story 

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