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Wrongful Convictions Overturned

Updated on March 20, 2014

Wrongful Convictions Overturned

To date, more than 300 people in the United States have had their wrongful convictions overturned. They have served long prison sentences, locked away from their families. Their lives have been ruined.

Before the use of DNA evidence to overturn wrongful convictions, many people will have been wrongfully imprisoned, and some executed for crimes they did not commit.

This lens examines some of the causes of wrongful convictions and some of the factors involved in overturning them. It highlights a few of the people who were eventually exonerated of crimes they did not commit.

This lens also lists resources to help overturn and prevent wrongful convictions.

The First DNA Exoneration

Gary Dotson
Gary Dotson

The first DNA exoneration is said to have been that of Gary Dotson.

Dotson had been convicted in 1979 of attacking a woman. Students at Northwestern University, working in their spare time, collected evidence which later led to Dotson's acquittal.

The supposed victim later confessed to giving false evidence. In addition to the statement of the victim, false forensic evidence was also presented at Dotson's trial. Dotson was not cleared until DNA evidence proved in 1988 that he had not committed the crime.

Causes of Wrongful Convictions

Rubin "Hurricane" Carter
Rubin "Hurricane" Carter

Wrongful convictions have been caused by a variety of factors, including:

Unreliable eyewitnesses. Eyewitness evidence is some of the least reliable evidence presented in court, yet it has been used to convict people later proven to be innocent.

Bad lawyers. Lawyers may not be skilled in the use of DNA and other forensic evidence, or they may be overworked, handling too many case files.

Bad science. For example, in the case of Gerard Richardson (see below), a bite-mark, which is not considered to be conclusive evidence, was used to convict him, while DNA evidence available from the bite-mark was ignored.

Racial background - see "Does Justice Have a Race?" below.

Poverty - the poor often do not have access to top legal representation.

Corruption. In some cases, police, prosecutors and law enforcement officers have been found to have falsified evidence, and beaten and tortured suspects to extract false confessions from them. Corruption was found to be a factor in the case of Rubin "Hurricane" Carter.

Does Justice Have a Race?

Not everyone falsely convicted of a serious or capital crime in the United States is Black / African American or Latino. However, Black people are disproportionately represented among people experiencing wrongful convictions.

The races of the 312 exonerees are as follows:

194 African Americans

94 Caucasians (white Americans)

22 Latinos

2 Asian Americans.

Black people are disproportionately represented on Death Row, in comparison with population numbers.

41.93% of Death Row prisoners are Black.

43.17% are white.

U.S. government census statistics show that Black people are around 10% of the population, although some estimates are closer to 30%. Nobody is suggesting that African Americans represent more than 40% of the total U.S. population.

So if you want to prevent a wrongful conviction, be white. Above all, avoid being Black, if at all possible.

Similarly, avoid being poor.

Wrongful Convictions Overturned - Books and DVDs

Books and DVDs about Wrongful Convictions Overturned

The Hurricane
The Hurricane

Denzel Washington stars as Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, falsely convicted of murder.

 
The Killing Season: A Summer Inside an LAPD Homicide Division
The Killing Season: A Summer Inside an LAPD Homicide Division

The Killing Season contains evidence which helped to exonerate Reggie Cole.

 

Statistics on Overturning Wrongful Convictions

There have been 312 post-conviction DNA exonerations in the United States.

  • The first DNA exoneration took place in 1989. Exonerations have been won in 36 states; since 2000, there have been 245 exonerations.
  • 18 of the 312 people exonerated through DNA served time on death row. Another 16 were charged with capital crimes but not sentenced to death.
  • The average length of time served by exonerees is 13.6 years. The total number of years served is approximately 4,156.
  • The average age of exonerees at the time of their wrongful convictions was 27.

    These statistics are taken from a factsheet provided by The Innocence Project (see below).

LaMonte Armstrong

LaMonte Armstrong
LaMonte Armstrong

LaMonte Armstrong is the most recent person to have his conviction overturned.

Armstrong was exonerated of a murder charge in 2012. He was granted a full pardon on December 24th 2013. Merry Christmas!

Once convicted, Armstrong started to doubt his own innocence. So many people were blaming him he began to wonder if he had committed the crime. He says that one day, it suddenly occurred to him that he was innocent and had been convicted of a crime he did not commit.

When DNA from a handprint left at the crime scene was tested, the results pointed to another suspect. .LaMonte Armstong was released from prison in June 29, 2012, after serving 17 years, but did not receive his full pardon until December 2013.

Gerard Richardson Exonerated of 1994 Murder

Gerard Richardson
Gerard Richardson

Gerard Richardson was exonerated of a murder conviction. His conviction was overturned in November 2013.

In 1995, Gerard Richardson was imprisoned for the first degree murder of Monica Reyes. The main evidence against him was a bite mark on Reyes's body. Bite marks have never been proven consistently to provide accurate evidence in cases of murder or assault.

DNA evidence has now proven that Richardson was innocent of Reyes's murder, and all charges against him have been dropped. He served more than 18 years before his conviction was overturned.

Larry Lamb

Larry Lamb
Larry Lamb

In 1993, Larry Lamb was convicted of the murder of Mr. Leamon Grady of Mount Olive, North Carolina. Lamb was sentenced to life in prison. No physical evidence ever connected either Larry, or his two co-defendants, to the crime.

In 2013, all charges against Lamb were dismissed after the Honorable W. Douglas stated that the key eyewitness had given false testimony, having both personal and financial motives for doing so. In his order, Judge Parsons stated that the testimony of the primary witness at trial “was false and that there is more than a reasonable possibility that, had the false testimony not been admitted, a different result would have been reached.”

When he was acquitted in August 2013, Larry Lamb had served 20 years in prison for a murder he did not commit.

Reggie Cole

Reggie Cole was sentenced to life without parole for killing Felipe Angeles in 1994.

His conviction was partly based on false testimony given by alleged eyewitness John Jones.

Cole's attorney, Christopher Plourd, having investigated this case for years in conjunction with the California Innocence Project, discovered that evidence that could have led to Cole's acquittal had been published in an article in the Los Angeles Times Magazine in 1995 and a book entitled, The Killing Season in 1997, both written by Miles Corwin.

It has been found that Cole's previous attorney failed to investigate and present the evidence. There were also problems with the prosecution, whom it has been found withheld material evidence and engaged in misconduct. The D.A.'s office subsquently found that Cole had received ineffective assistance of counsel. The case has now been dismissed. The charges were dismissed in 2009. At his release in 2010, Reggie Cole had served 15 years in prison before his false conviction was overturned.

Imprisoned for Years on No Evidence

Kalief Browder
Kalief Browder

Kalief Browder spent three years in the notorious Riker's Island prison when there was no evidence against him. At the age of 16, he lost three years of his life. Three years of birthdays, three Christmases. He missed his own high school graduation. All charges have now been dropped.

For more about this and other miscarriages of justice, see: Deaths in Police Custody

How to Overturn a Wrongful Conviction - Resources to Help Overturn a Wrongful Conviction

312 people in the United States have been exonerated of crimes they did not commit, and many more have prevented wrongful convictions. These are some resources that can be helpful in overturning false convictions.

Innocence Projects

Innocence Projects have been very instrumental in supporting and assisting people to overturn wrongful convictions.

Innocence Projects in the UK - British Innocence Projects

A number of innocence projects have now sprung up in Britain.

Please leave details of the case of anyone you know of who has been wrongly convicted of a crime.

Do You Know of Someone Who Was Wrongly Convicted?

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    Post Comment

    • Zhana21 profile imageAUTHOR

      Zhana 

      4 years ago

      Thanks very much for your comment. It's supposed to be a land of justice and quality,l right?

    • RonElFran profile image

      Ronald E Franklin 

      4 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      The statistic that over 61 percent of the wrongful convictions that have been overturned in the U. S. have been for African Americans is a fascinating one of which I was not aware. Thanks for bringing that to light.

    • profile image

      anonymous 

      4 years ago

      Very interesting information here on wrongful convictions overturned.

    • Brite-Ideas profile image

      Barbara Tremblay Cipak 

      4 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      I don't, but it's very upsetting to think families and people have gone through this - how would we feel if it were our families. Horrible.

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