Since 2013, the number of U.S. prosecutors’ conviction integrity units that identify and correct wrongful convictions has more than doubled, from 12 counties to 26, McClatchy Newspapers reports. With more than 3,000 counties, the number remains low, but the efforts are having an impact. In the wave of steadily increasing exonerations – in 2015, more people were exonerated than any other year before – conviction review units played a major role. Of the 156 exonerations that took place in 2015, a record 60 stemmed from the work of the review units, says the National Registry of Exonerations at the University of Michigan Law School.
The trend is evident in Texas, a law-and-order state better known for the high number of convicts that it sentences to death each year. It has the most exonerations by conviction review units of any state, the most exonerations in general, and the second highest number of review units. The idea for a county-level conviction review unit originated in Dallas nine years ago, although a less official effort by the district attorney’s office was already under way in Santa Clara, California. More than 150 defendants on death row have been exonerated since 1973, says the Death Penalty Information Center, a nonprofit that opposes capital punishment. In at least 20 cases, DNA played a substantial role in establishing innocence.