Forcing the Innocent to Plead Guilty, an American Disgrace


Amaury Villalobos and William Vasquez reacted after their exonerations in a 1980 Brooklyn arson case. From left, Adele Bernhard, a lawyer, with Mr. Villalobos; Rita Dave, a lawyer, with Mr. Vasquez; and the widow of Raymond Mora, a third defendant who was cleared, Janet Mora, and their daughter, Eileen Mora. (photo: Pearl Gabel/NYT)
Amaury Villalobos and William Vasquez reacted after their exonerations in a 1980 Brooklyn arson case. From left, Adele Bernhard, a lawyer, with Mr. Villalobos; Rita Dave, a lawyer, with Mr. Vasquez; and the widow of Raymond Mora, a third defendant who was cleared, Janet Mora, and their daughter, Eileen Mora. (photo: Pearl Gabel/NYT)

 

John Kiriakou | Reader Supported News | April 19, 2016

record 149 people had their criminal convictions overturned in 2015 after courts found they had been wrongly charged, according to a recent study. Nearly 4 in 10 of those exonerated had been convicted of murder, and the average newly-released prisoner had served more than 14 years in prison. Most of the exonerations came in only two states, Texas and New York. The National Registry of Exonerations, a project of the University of Michigan Law School, found that there have been 1,733 exonerations since 1989, with the total doubling since 2011. More than two-thirds of last year’s exonerees were minorities. Five had been sentenced to death.

There is a reason why most of the exonerations have come from two locales. District attorneys in Brooklyn, New York, and Harris County, Texas, have begun long-term reviews of questionable convictions, actions that are being watched by prosecutors and defense attorneys across the country. With 156 death row exonerations since 1973, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, this is a problem that must be addressed.

The National Registry of Exonerations report stated further that 42 of those exonerated in 2015 had pleaded guilty, a glaring indication that the current system of seeking plea bargains simply isn’t just. Indeed, Propublica found that 98.2 percent of all federal cases end in conviction, with nearly all of those a result of plea deals.

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