A first peek into Virginia’s post-conviction DNA project data shows a potential wrongful conviction rate of 6 percent in the decade and a half before DNA testing was widely available, reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch. The preliminary figure from the Urban Institute, which is studying the results, roughly matches the exoneration rate found in 2005, when testing in a small sample of cases cleared two men of rapes and prompted Virginia’s groundbreaking project.
The 6-year-old effort aimed at clearing innocent people was made possible by a trove of biological evidence samples discovered in Virginia Department of Forensic Science files dating from 1973 through 1988. John Roman of the Urban Institute’s Justice Policy Center said researchers reviewing 638 Virginia cases have identified 37 “that might support exoneration and that certainly support further investigation.” Roman hopes the study will indicate how many people were wrongfully convicted of serious crimes from 1973 through 1988. “I don’t know how far we can go down that road,” he said, “but this is probably the best attempt to get at that number that anybody’s ever had. The Justice Department made a really substantial investment in this.”