When innocent people are falsely convicted of crimes and later freed, in more than half of the cases, misconduct by police and prosecutors played a contributing role.
That’s the primary theme of a new report, “Government Misconduct and Convicting the Innocent,” released today by the National Registry of Exonerations, which has been tracking all known exonerations in the United States for the past 30 years. Every year they release a report documenting trends in exonerations, how often DNA evidence plays a role in determining an innocent person is behind bars, problems with eyewitness testimony, and of course, misconduct by officials.
This new report drills into all of the exonerations they’ve archived up until February 2019. That’s 2,400 cases. These are people who have been convicted of crimes, sentenced, then later cleared based on new evidence showing their innocence.
In 54 percent of these cases, misconduct by officials contributed to a false conviction. The more severe the crime, the more likely misconduct played a role when an innocent person was convicted.
Police and prosecutors, in general, engaged in misconduct at about equal rates, 35 percent for cops, 30 percent for prosecutors at the state level. In drug cases, though, cops were four times more likely to have engaged in misconduct than prosecutors. When it came to federal cases, prosecutors engaged in misconduct at rates more than twice as often as police. In white-collar cases, federal prosecutors engaged in misconduct seven times as much as police.
The most common type of misconduct involved concealing exculpatory evidence, which is evidence that suggests the defendant is not guilty. The National Registry of Exonerations found that evidence was deliberately concealed in 44 percent of the cases that ultimately resulted in exonerations. The 218-page report documents the many ways that police and prosecutors break the rules in order to get convictions, from fabricating evidence and manipulative conduct during interrogations to fraudulent forensics and flat-out lying in court.