DETROIT (FOX 2) - Wrongful convictions have resulted in at least 142 Michiganders spending a total of 1,417 years in prison for crimes they did not commit or should not have been convicted of.
Exonerations in the US
The National Registry of Exonerations has been compiling data on exonerated people since 1989. According to the Registry, 2,933 in the United States, including Puerto Rico and Guam, have been exonerated since then.
The crime with the most exonerations nationwide is murder (1,175), followed by crimes classified as other (699), then drug possession or sale (413), sexual assault (349), and child sex abuse (297).
These wrongful convictions have resulted in at least 26,289 years lost behind bars, as of Oct. 25, 2021.
Numerous factors contribute to wrongful convictions and eventual freedom, including mistaken identification, bad forensic evidence, perjury, false confessions, official misconduct, and more. In some cases, DNA advancements have proven someone innocent years after the alleged crime. DNA has been present in 551 of the Registry's recorded exonerations.
According to the Registry, perjury or false accusations have been present in 61% of wrongful conviction exonerations in the United States. Official misconduct is the next biggest contributing factor, with it present in 56% of cases. Mistaken ID has contributed to 28% of exonerations, false/misleading forensic evidence has been present in 24% of cases, and false confessions account for 12% of exonerated cases.
Sometimes a combination of factors contribute to a case being exonerated.
The value of Conviction Integrity Units
According to the Registry, Conviction Integrity Units helped secure 61 exonerations nationwide in 2020 by investigating cases of potential wrongful conviction to determine if errors occurred.
Of Michigan's exonerations, 139 have been non-federal cases, with the bulk of cases out of Wayne County. The county's CIU has been a driving force behind many wrongful conviction releases.
CIUs have been involved in 29 of Michigan's non-federal cases. Aside from one case out of Berrien County and one case from Oakland County, all of those cases were from Wayne County.
The Berrien County and Oakland County cases and one Wayne County case were investigated by the state's Attorney General Conviction Integrity Unit, which was founded in 2019.
The unit had its first exoneration last summer when Gilbert Poole Jr., was cleared in a 1989 murder thanks to DNA advancements. It also helped free Kenneth Nixon, who was wrongfully convicted of firebombing a home in 2005, and Corey McCall, who was cleared through new evidence after being convicted of a triple murder in 2005.
Other units are also forming in Michigan. In November 2021, the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners approved adding a full-time position to manage the Conviction Integrity and Expungement Unit, which was temporarily created earlier last year.
Macomb County is also creating a CIU. It expects to start investigating cases by the end of January.