Convictions and corrections: A look at the numbers behind wrongful imprisonment
Cornelius Dupree, seen with his lawyer, was imprisoned in Texas, which has the most exonerations based on DNA evidence.
June 21st, 2011
02:14 PM ET

Convictions and corrections: A look at the numbers behind wrongful imprisonment

Cornelius Dupree celebrated the beginning of 2011 by being released from a 30-year wrongful imprisonment.

The 51-year-old had been barely past his teenage years the last time he rang in the new year as a free man. The DNA evidence that led to his exoneration demonstrated that his imprisoned adulthood had been based upon a case of mistaken identity.

Witness misidentification is the largest contributor to wrongful convictions, said Paul Cates, communications director for the Innocence Project. Requiring police lineups to be double-blind can help combat it.

Lawmakers in Texas, where Dupree was convicted and the nation's leader in exonerations based on DNA evidence, approved a bill in April that will enact lineup regulations that include requiring that they be double-blind.

Though DNA evidence has demonstrated the prevalence of mistakes in the system and how to avoid them, it has also proven useful in retroactively correcting them.

In Florida, The Brevard County Sheriff’s department announced Monday that the DNA evidence clearing William Dillon of the murder conviction for which he served 27 years in prison has now led them to four possible suspects.

If the final four yields new answers to this 30-year-old question, Dillon’s case will join 122 others nationally in which DNA evidence has both exonerated the person initially convicted and has led to a different suspect, according to the Innocence Project’s website. That figure makes up a little less than half of 272 post-conviction exonerations DNA evidence has led to since 1989, the national organization based in New York reports. And still more people who have been convicted of crimes and their families feel that DNA evidence would prove their innocence.

“We have a huge back load of people writing to us to ask for assistance,” said Paul Cates, communications director for the Innocence Project.

According to the organization’s website, Florida, where Dillon was convicted, is tied with Virginia for third place in the number of DNA-based exonerations.

With thirteen exonerations, they rank behind New York (27), Illinois (31) and Texas, which has exonerated 43 prisoners.

But using DNA evidence to free the wrongfully imprisoned is only part of the organization’s objective. The other part is lobbying for changes in criminal investigations that would prevent wrongful convictions in the first place. The biggest reason for wrongful convictions, Cates said, is eyewitness misidentification, but another concern is thin forensic evidence that is improperly viewed as scientific truth.

“There’s a lot of things that pass as forensic science out there,” Cates said.

This problem played into Dillon's conviction, which was partially based upon the testimony of a dog handler who was later discredited.

Cates said another big investigative problem Innocence Project also works to combat is interrogations that lead to false confessions. Requiring that interrogations be recorded can help achieve this, he said. Of those top five exoneration states, only Illinois has a law requiring interrogations to be recorded.

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Filed under: Crime • Justice
soundoff (18 Responses)
  1. Riff*Raff

    Ironic that TX has the highest number of wrongful convictions, but the highest number of inmates put to death.
    I wonder how many wrongfully accused have already been put to death. With the advancements of DNA, I believe all capital cases should be re-tested prior to having the ultimate judgment imposed, ie the death penalty-regardless if appeals have been exhausted or not. It's got to be a cheaper alternative than incarcerating an inmate for life or putting a wrongfully convicted person to death.

    June 21, 2011 at 4:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • leeintulsa

      With the cost of the appeals, etc, it's actually cheaper to keep them alive. The statistic you note about Texas is scary, indeed.

      The death penalty is barbaric. A government should never kill its own people.. Like in libya.. And syria..

      June 21, 2011 at 6:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • KDW

      If you look at the numbers, as of January 2011, 21 of the wrongfully convicted in Texas came from Dallas county. Dallas county keeps/maintains evidence for years and years, thus giving the opportunity to re-test items. How many states maintain evidence so that it can be retested 30 years later? Before you start on the Texas hating, perhaps you should look at your own state and see how long they keep evidence.

      June 21, 2011 at 7:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Riff*Raff

      Interesting that it's cheaper to incarcerate. If an average felon costs about $35k/yr to house, how much does the testing cost? Lawd, they must cost a fortune! No wonder there seens to be a voluminous backlog in ea state. I thought it was bureauacracy causing the delay not the cost of the test per se. Why so much if it's typically done in house ie: cost controlled?
      TX also had a Chief examiner a few years ago that lied on her resume and was not as qualified as she led everyone to believe. Therefore not following proper protocol etc. She had personally overseen all testing in the county, resulting in hundreds of capital convictions. All of which are still being re-tried-the last I heard anyway. If I recall, they are not getting as many convictions this time around. However, unlike Illinois, TX chose not to halt executions even with this additional information.

      I understand the reasoning behind the death penalty-Ms. Anthony would be one reason that comes to mind-but as long as I have any doubt about the veracity of the convictions/guilt of the person, then I cannot in good conscience support it.
      Aren't we the last civilized nation on the planet to allow this punishment? Although, Federal crimes don't allow for the death penalty, do they?

      June 21, 2011 at 8:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Riff*Raff

      I am so not hating on TX, and I didn't mean it to sound that way. TX just happens to be the examples that came to mind. Given the population, it would be difficult to not have an example from TX. Believe me, I live in GA, and am hardly in a place to be holier than thou for any reason-especially in the case of the justice system. Again, I didn't mean to offend. It was mentioned in the article, and I drew from that.

      June 21, 2011 at 8:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • leeintulsa

      @riff: it's the cost of the appeals, lawyers, court costs, that sort of thing. Not to say they don't pay way too much for the testing – it is the government, after all

      June 21, 2011 at 9:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • Annie

      Maybe less ironic is that Texas has the third highest population. It borders Mexico more so than any other state. They take criminal activity and violence seriously! However, I would not be opposed to testing DNA when it is relevant to the existance of guilt and innocense, yes.

      June 24, 2011 at 3:37 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Lyndsie Graham

    What's wrong with CNN? They let some people blog in here their frivolous, meaningless mumbo-jumbo sometimes using foul language but yet they block many of my posts such as the one I posted protesting the conviction of two innocent men. I don't get it!

    June 21, 2011 at 5:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • George Patton

      I know how you feel, Lyndsie. I posted five different times here protesting the false conviction of two men in Du Page County,Illinois back in 1983 and all five of my posts were blocked. I guess that this one won't see the light of day,either!

      June 21, 2011 at 7:16 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Steve

    With a system that makes this many errors, the death penalty does not make sense.

    June 21, 2011 at 5:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • fandango

      Yeah, but they get it right most of the time and I don;t believe serial killers, child molestors, rapists, first degree murderers should continue to live because somewhere down the line, laws could change that would allow them to be released. Dead people are released to the undertaker and there is no possibility of them repeating their crimes.

      June 22, 2011 at 12:44 am | Report abuse |
  4. Chungajw

    Steve said: "With a system that makes this many errors, the death penalty does not make sense."

    Ummm. Didn't you mean that with a system that uses double blind DNA testing , the death penalty begins to more make sense?

    It was Craig Watkins, the Dallas DA, who really launched this effort, on a city sized large scale, over the past few years. Too bad he didn't get some, even a little, credit for his efforts...

    June 21, 2011 at 6:03 pm | Report abuse |
  5. leeintulsa

    I cannot understand. I mean, i *could*, when i was young. Before i thought about it.

    With what i know now about our government, there is no way they could *possibly* be competent enough to handle the killing of Americans. There has already been innocent people killed.

    Texas is also an example of the lack of it being some sort of 'deterrent'.

    Too bad only arabs get to try and come out of the stone age.

    June 21, 2011 at 6:15 pm | Report abuse |
  6. jj

    110 out of how many 100's of thousands? thats not bad at all. s**t happens we live in an imperfect world.

    June 21, 2011 at 6:57 pm | Report abuse |
  7. PotFace

    I wouldn't use the number of exonerations as a measuring stick as to how screwed up a state's justice system is – they seem to be doing the right thing by admitting that they screwed up. Meanwhile, in other states, it's virtually impossible for a wrongfully convicted prisoner to so much as get a serious ear...

    June 22, 2011 at 2:14 am | Report abuse |
  8. tiffany

    This is why there should be NO death penalty. There are some innocent people being put to death and later they find out they were innocent

    June 22, 2011 at 7:19 am | Report abuse |
  9. Grant Hemingway

    The Innocence Project provides pro-bono post-conviction legal assistance to individuals that are seeking to prove their innocence with DNA testing and works to enact the reforms needed to protect innocent Americans from wrongful prosecution and incarceration.

    With your support, the Innocence Project is fighting to overturn wrongful convictions and enacting reforms across the country based on the lessons of their work

    June 22, 2011 at 9:22 am | Report abuse |
  10. FurReal

    Better late than never...
    How is it that the US has more imprisoned people than the rest of the world combined? Oh I know, false imprisonment.
    I am glad they are going over cases with a fine tooth comb. Some people are in prison for the dumbest reasons, while other "real" criminals with malace intent wander the streets around us daily.

    July 12, 2012 at 1:03 pm | Report abuse |