It is estimated that upwards of 10,000 Americans are wrongfully convicted of crimes each year. These crimes include serious felony charges for rape, robbery, murder, etc. These convictions cause considerable disruption to an individual’s life and can leave them with emotional and financial scars that can take a lifetime to heal.
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Exonerating the Innocent
The National Registry of Exonerations currently records 2,003 individual cases of exoneration for wrongful convictions in the United States since 1989. 11 of these are in Minnesota. These wrongful convictions cost these individuals an average of 2 years of their lives, and a collective total of 24 years.
Nationwide, wrongful convictions have cost Americans a minimum of 17,499 years of their lives. On average, individuals who are wrongfully convicted of a crime spend just short of 9 years of their lives behind bars. The emotional, financial, and psychological toll this creates is significant and can affect an individual’s ability to reconnect with their friends, family, and careers upon release.
Serious Crimes, Race, and Wrongful Convictions
Wrongful convictions often occur for some of the most serious offenses. Homicide, sexual assault, child sexual assault are the most common crimes for which individuals are wrongfully convicted. Further, race can be a contributing factor in determining whether an individual could be wrongfully accused and convicted of a crime.
As of 2017, the following crimes have the highest number of exoneration:
Homicide – 401 African-Americans, 309 Caucasians, and 101 Hispanics have been exonerated following murder convictions. In cases where African-Americans are wrongfully convicted of murder, 22% involve official misconduct.
Sexual Assault – 179 African-Americans, 100 Caucasians, and 18 Hispanics have been exonerated for sexual assaults including rape, molestation, revenge porn, etc.
Child Sexual Abuse – 141 Caucasians, 57 African-Americans, and 25 Hispanics have been exonerated for crimes including possession of child pornography, molestation, rape, etc.
Narcotics – 55% of individuals who are exonerated for drug crimes are African-American while 24% are Caucasian. In regard to narcotic related crimes, African-Americans are 12 times more likely to be wrongfully convicted than Caucasians or individuals of other races.
Nationwide, race is a factor in increasing the likelihood an individual could be wrongfully convicted of a crime. Overall, 940 African-Americans, 783 Caucasians, 239 Hispanics, and 41 individuals of Asian, Indian, and other descents have been released from incarceration and exonerated for crimes they did not commit.
Exposing a Wrongful Conviction
There are many ways that people who are wrongfully convicted can be exonerated. These include the following:
- New Evidence is Discovered. This can include the recovery of a weapon with fingerprints that don’t match. It can include the collection and examination of DNA samples or ballistic results that were not previously available. Approximately 23% of wrongful convictions are overturned when the forensic evidence used to obtain the conviction is proven inaccurate.
- Recanting Testimony. Testimonies and statements provided for arrests or for use during a trial can be recanted at any time following a conviction. Victims, witnesses to the alleged crime, expert witnesses, or criminal investigators can come forward to recant the testimony they provided that led to the conviction. In Minnesota, individuals who provide perjured testimony in a felony trial may themselves be charged with a felony. Upon conviction, they may be sentenced to up to seven years in prison and fined up to $14,000. Roughly 55% of wrongful convictions involve perjury or false accusations. Because perjury is considered a criminal offense, individuals may not seek to recover damages against individuals who provide perjured testimony.
- Misconduct is Uncovered. When evidence tampering and patterns of official misconduct are uncovered, it can be used to call into question other cases law enforcement officers or members of the court have been involved in pursuing and prosecuting. Roughly 51% of wrongful convictions involve official misconduct. Examples of evidence tampering and official misconduct include planting evidence, coercing witness statements, and coercing confessions.
Compensation for Wrongful Convictions
In 2014, the Minnesota legislature passed legislation that allows victims of wrongful convictions to seek compensation from the state. People who have been wrongfully convicted and imprisoned may seek up to $100,000 for each year that they were incarcerated. They may also seek compensation for the emotional distress caused by their imprisonment and any physical injuries they experienced while in custody. There is no cap on the amount of compensation they may seek in such cases.
Expungement & Moving Forward
Individuals who have been wrongfully convicted of a crime can have their records expunged in Minnesota. The process of expungement requires filing the appropriate forms with the court and going through the necessary court hearings. From start to finish, a felony lawyer in Minneapolis can typically guide the individual through the process in 3-4 months. For individuals who have been wrongfully convicted of a crime, expunging their records is essential for helping them move forward with their lives so that they may seek employment, housing, and other opportunities.