National Registry of Exonerations, an online database of 2, 000 wrongful convictions that have been overturned dating to 1989, is now housed at the University of California Irvine (UCI), where it will become a resource for faculty and students studying the criminal justice system. UCI was selected because of its concentration of faculty in the area of wrongful convictions, the Los Angeles Times reports. “This university can really provide muscle to what is a still-developing group of cases,” said Maurice Possley, senior researcher for the registry, which was created in 2012 as a project of the University of Michigan Law School and Northwestern University’s Center on Wrongful Convictions. “I tend to think this database can be one of the most influential factors for reform and change in the criminal justice system in many years,” Possley said.
The purpose of the registry is to collect data on the causes of wrongful convictions — which typically include mistaken witness identification, false confession, official misconduct, false or misleading forensic evidence, false accusation and inadequate legal defense — in order to prevent them in the future. Such a large databank offers support to researchers, activists and legislators who are seeking change to the criminal justice system. A recent analysis of the registry’s data found that African Americans make up “a majority of innocent defendants wrongfully convicted of crimes and later exonerated.” Innocent black defendants are about seven times more likely to be convicted of murder than innocent whites, and murder exonerations with black defendants were 22 percent more likely to include police misconduct. Possley said the 2,000 cases on file is only “scratching the surface” of the total number of wrongful convictions, given the registry’s own strict criteria of exoneration and the difficulty in finding these cases.