A report from the National Registry of Exonerations revealed that in 2013, at least 87 people were exonerated—the highest annual figure in the past 25 years. The report also broke the numbers down, and detailed analysis revealed that there isn't much to celebrate:
Twenty-seven of the 87 known exonerations that occurred in 2013—almost a third of the total—were in cases in which no crime in fact occurred. This is a record number that is likely to grow as we learn about more 2013 exonerations. Almost half of these no-crime exonerations were for non-violent crimes, primarily drug convictions.
Fifteen of the 87 known exonerations in 2013—17%—occurred in cases in which the defendants were convicted after pleading guilty, also a record number. Such cases used to be far less common. The long-term rate has doubled since 2008, and the actual number continues to climb.
The great majority of exonerations in every year we have studied were homicide and sexual assault cases. In 2013, we had 40 murder exonerations—including one exoneration of a prisoner who had been sentenced to death—and 18 exonerations that involved rape or other sexual assault.
But the proportion of exonerations that do not involve rape or murder has grown over time, from 18% from 1989 through 1998 to 24% from 2009 through 2013. In 2013, 29 exonerations, 33% of the total, did not involve either of these extreme crimes of violence—a record number of exonerations in such cases, and a comparatively high proportion of all exonerations.
Thirty-three known exonerations in 2013—38% of the total—were obtained at the initiative or with the cooperation of law enforcement. This is the second highest annual total of exonerations with law enforcement cooperation, down slightly from 2012 (39 cases, 49% of all exonerations in that year) but consistent with a pattern we described a year ago: police and prosecutors appear to be taking increasingly active roles in reinvestigating possible false convictions, and to be more responsive to claims of innocence from convicted defendants.
As Gawker notes, the report points out that murder and assault convictions make up for most of the exonerations because the resources available to revisit old cases typically focuses on those with the heaviest penalties.
Furthermore, everyone exonerated last year was convicted 12 years earlier, "on average." Some were convicted up to 30 years prior. Glorify that if you want to.