New Report Says 2015 Was Record Year for Exonerations in the U.S.

A new report from the National Registry of Exonerations, a University of Michigan Law School project, shows that a record-breaking 149 defendants were exonerated in 2015. Those who were exonerated spent an average of 14.5 years in prison for crimes they did not commit.

A total of 58 defendants were exonerated in homicide cases, including 54 for murder and four for manslaughter. In addition, 47 defendants were exonerated in drug cases — 42 of which came from Harris County, Texas.

The report noted that 28% of all exonerations last year came from Harris County, due to the Harris County District Attorney’s focus on reviewing past convictions. The DA found that previous aggressive tactics such as threatening defendants with a long prison term to extract a guilty plea led some defendants to confess to drug crimes that did not occur. The report stated that Harris County prosecutors are no longer allowed to employ aggressive plea bargaining tactics unless lab tests confirm a drug crime has occurred.

The establishment of Conviction Integrity Units (CIUs) in prosecutorial offices to identify, correct and prevent false convictions is a primary reason for the record number of exonerations, according to the report. Almost half of CIU exonerations came from Harris County (76 of 151).

In addition, the report noted that 65 exonerations in 2015 were the result of official misconduct, including 75% of homicide exonerations. A record 75 exonerations occurred in cases where no crime actually occurred — most involved drug cases, but there were also six murder convictions and 14 other violent felonies overturned because no crime actually occurred.

While exonerations are becoming more commonplace, the report states that “progress so far is a drop in the bucket. This is not a problem that’s limited to a few counties. By any reasonable accounting, there are tens of thousands of false convictions each year across the country, and many more that have accumulated over the decades.”

The Cogdell Law Firm is a full service criminal litigation and appellate law firm. We provide client-focused representation at all stages of the process, whether our clients are seeking to avoid charges, have been charged, or are seeking reversal of a conviction on appeal. When results matter most, contact Dan Cogdell at (713) 426-2244 or