Henry Thompson — October 25, 2013 @ 11:43 AM — Comments (0)
As of October 2013 the number of exonerations documented in the United States was 1,228.
Exonerations nationwide are documented in The National Registry of Exonerations, which is a joint project of the Michigan Law School and Northwestern University School of Law. The registry is a searchable and detailed database of information about those who have been exonerated from prison in the United States.
Samuel R. Gross, law professor at the University of Michigan School of Law , and Rob Warden, executive director of The Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern School of Law, began reviewing data on exonerations in the United States in 1989.
In 2012, with the help of law student Michael Shaffer and many other volunteers, they published a comprehensive review of exonerations on a national scale and launched the website for the National Registry of Exonerations.
The report contains extensive research data from 1989 to 2012. The three help to define and clarify exonerations and the processes behind them. The report also significantly explained in large detail reasons for wrongful convictions. Here are some excerpts from the inaugural report from The National Registry of Exonerations.
“DNA exonerations also take longer than non-DNA exonerations; the median time from conviction is 14.9 years compared to 7.8 years. This is true for homicide cases, where the median time is 15 years with DNA and 11.9 years without; for sexual assault cases, where the comparable numbers are 14.6 years and 7.1 years; and for child sex abuse exonerations, where the median times are 17 years with DNA and 5.9 without DNA.”
“The 873 exonerations in the Registry come from 43 states, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, 19 federal districts, and the military. They are very unevenly distributed by state, and especially when broke down by county. This suggests we are missing many cases – both innocent defendants from jurisdictions where exonerations are vanishingly rare, and exonerated defendants whose cases have received little or no public attention.”
Along with detailing information regarding DNA testing for exonerations and national data, Gross and Ward explain the types of situations that may lead to wrongful incarceration. These situations are many and varied though common themes tie them together. Some of the most egregious wrongful convictions stem from official misconduct on behalf of law enforcement or the courts.
“The range of misconduct is very large. It includes flagrantly abusive investigative practices that produce the types of false evidence we have discussed: committing or procuring perjury; torture; threats or other highly coercive interrogations; threatening or lying to eyewitnesses; forensic fraud. At the far end, it includes framing innocent suspects for crimes that never occurred. The most common serious form of official misconduct is concealing exculpatory evidence from the defendant and the court.”
The average number of exonerations has grown by about 220 cases per year. The website is an invaluable resource that is intuitively designed and makes searching out exonerees a simple task. The website allows the user to search using name, exoneration date, contributing factors to exoneration, location, and status. The website also provides relatively short biographies of those profiled and their history regarding their exoneration.
You can find information about the Registry online and a copy of the inaugural exonerations report created by Gross and Warden can be found here.
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Anna Fitzpatrick — July 10, 2013 @ 4:31 PM — Comments (0)
In the past week, both Victor Caminata, 39, and George Souliotes, 72, had their arson convictions overturned and were released from prison into the arms of family members. Caminata, who spent four years behind bars after a 2008 blaze in Michigan that burnt down the house he and his then-girlfriend shared. He had only one thing on his mind when he was released – to see his children. He plans to spend time with his three children and live with his sister until he can find his own place.
George Souliotes was released Wednesday after more than 16 years behind bars into the arms of his sister, who was overwhelmed with emotion seeing her brother for the first time out of custody. Souliotes was serving time in California on counts of murder and arson, which were reduced to three counts of involuntary manslaughter after modern science invalidated the evidence used in the original trial. Souliotes plans to move in with his sister and her family.
Congratulations to the exonerees as they embark on their most recent chapter in life, and to the innocence organizations, the Michigan Innocence Clinic and Northern California Innocence Project, respectively, on all their hard work throughout the process.
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Jordan — June 13, 2012 @ 9:40 AM — Comments (0)
We want to congratulate the Michigan Innocence Clinic on their recent exoneration of David Gavitt. It is their sixth since they started in 2009. We also want to wish David Gavitt the very best as he begins to rebuild his life.
On March 9, 1985, Gavitt narrowly escaped his burning house while his wife and two young daughters never made it out. His 26 years behind bars rendered him unable to attend their funeral or even visit their graves. So he went straight there when he was released.
Exoneree David Gavitt mourns over his family's grave, for whose murder he was wrongfully convicted. ~Courtesy of Detroit Free Press
Ionia County Prosecutor Ronald Schafer accepted the reassessment of old arson forensics. A Michigan State Police crime lab technician erroneously found the carpet in the Gavitt family’s living room to have burn patterns suggesting a flame accelerant like gasoline. The only doubtful shred left in Schafer’s mind is the question as to why Gavitt broke a window in a room that was not his daughters’ bedroom, but rather told his wife to retrieve the girls and bring them to the room he broke the window in.
However when one awakes with his house in flames we must consider the possibility of unclear thought. Quick thinking may have led him to break a window he found clear of the flames. Quick thinking demands action upon opportunity. This little bit of doubt does not stand up to Gavitt’s his signs of desperation during the fire: his deep cuts from breaking the window, his second-degree burns, his clothing worn after breaking out into the wintertime (or lack thereof), and his neighbors having to physically prevent his reentry into the house.
We saw a few weeks ago Cook County (Illinois) prosecutors free James Kluppelberg after his already spent 22 years under the wrongful conviction for setting a fire to kill a mother and five children. His charge was also due to poor arson forensics that are now viewed as flawed. The current understanding of a fire behavior called a flashover–most basically defined as a sudden transition to a fully developed fire by “total surface involvement of all combustible material within the compartment”–now can explain previously thought arson-sourced fires.
It is critically important to be open to understanding what forensic science is telling us and to know that advancements, both in scientific techniques and interpretation of the results, are being made everyday. Arson forensics is a prime example of the limited science that was previously available and has sadly led to wrongful convictions.
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