When an exoneration reaches the public spotlight time and time again, the problem becomes all the more clear: America has a long road ahead in regard to the ways it handles false convictions. Not only can a wrongful conviction reflect poor judgement on behalf of a criminal justice system; it can completely destroy a person’s life. Time behind bars does not seem as excruciating to those on the other side, but for the West Virginians who face penalties on false grounds, a life can be at stake.
TIME provides an insightful scope into America’s exoneration problem, showing that, as of 2016, the number of exonerations in the country had hit an all-time high. 166 people reclaimed their lives that year after they were declared innocent; furthermore, TIME reports that there are roughly three exonerations per week on average. Many may ask, what is the reason for such a high number? Some experts point toward shifting attitudes toward accountability in the prosecutorial offices across the nation. Convictions most likely to be overturned were those which received repeated reviews on appeal, as well as those supported by various advocacy groups. TIME also pulls from National Registry statistics to show that over 50 percent of exonerations involve perjury or wrongful accusations.
Also attempting to learn from history, National Geographic takes a look at America’s exoneration statistics. Using a study of one University of Michigan professor, the article goes on to share the shocking reality that America’s false conviction rate stood at 4.1 percent. More specifically, this statistic reflected the error rate of those who were sentenced to death. Even though all who are involved in these convictions are incredibly careful due to the stakes at hand, National Geographic goes on to note that some inmates on death row have waited up to 33 years before being relieved. Another unsettling truth lies in the fact that, if one is on death row but receives the reduced sentence to life in prison, they could have lesser chances of being exonerated than those still on death row. It appears that there are many complexities to this serious issue, but also that some inmates receive closer attention than others when it comes to false accusations.