By Jazelle Hunt
U.S. Attorneys across the nation are professional prosecutors, making sure criminals are locked up for their crimes. Beginning this fall, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia will take on a new and very different role as it turns its attention to those convicted of crimes they did not commit.
It will be the first time any of the nation’s 93 presidentially-appointed federal prosecutors has taken up this cause.
The Convictions Integrity Unit will re-evaluate violent felony cases in which defendants can supply sufficient, new evidence that warrants a reconsideration of the conviction, especially DNA or biological evidence that can prove innocence.
The National Registry of Exonerations, a joint project between the University of Michigan Law School and the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law, compiles information on all known exonerations since 1989, with convictions beginning in the late 1950s.
Florida, California, Illinois, New York, and Texas have the highest rates of wrongful convictions, and according to the registry, 1,467 people – 46 percent of them Black – have been exonerated since 1989. This year alone, 81 people have been cleared; (49 of them are African American).
On average, these men and women are imprisoned for at least a decade before their convictions are overturned and their records expunged.
“There’s nothing to suggest that the rate of false convictions is slowing down, at all,” says Samuel Gross, law professor at the University of Michigan, and editor and co-founder of the National Registry of Exonerations.