In its “Exoneree Project,” the Houston Chronicle features photographs and anecdotal stories about the growing number of wrongful convictions in Texas. Most troubling, the paper says, is that the relatively small number of exonerations points to a potentially huge unseen number of people who have been wrongfully convicted. False convictions occur for a number of reasons: Victims identify the wrong person; prosecutors withhold exculpatory evidence from the accused; false or misleading forensic evidence points to the wrong person; defendants receive inadequate legal representation; witnesses perjure themselves.
In May, the National Registry of Exonerations, a joint project of the University of Michigan Law School and the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law, released its first report analyzing 873 exonerations between January 1989 and February 2012. (Since then, the number of identified exonerations in the registry has grown to 1,050, and more are added almost daily.) In the 873 cases that were studied, the registry found the most common reasons for wrongful conviction were perjuryor false accusation (51 percent), mistaken witness identification (43 percent) and official misconduct (42 percent). In total they spent more than 10,000 years in prison for crimes they did not commit.