A new study from Virginia’s DNA testing project estimates that as many as 15 percent of people found guilty in sexual assault cases between 1973 and 1987 were wrongfully convicted, reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch. The Urban Institute report says DNA supports the innocence of 38 people — five convicted in murders and 33 in sexual assaults — indicating that more people are left to be cleared of wrongful convictions. The Virginia DNA project began in 2005 after sample testing cleared two men of rapes. Testing in hundreds of cases since then has exonerated three more people.
The Urban Institute had access to the Virginia data for its study under a $4.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Justice. The institute estimates a wrongful conviction rate in sexual assault cases of 8 percent to 15 percent, comparable to the results in sample testing that exonerated two people and prompted Gov. Mark Warner to start the full DNA project in 2005. “This is the most methodologically sound study that’s been done, and the rate is much higher than has been shown in other studies,” said Jon Gould of the Washington Institute for Public and International Affairs Research at American University. Steven Benjamin, a member of the Virginia Board of Forensic Science and president-elect of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said the Urban Institute study should set off alarms.