In 2020, only one state exonerated more people wrongfully convicted of crimes than Michigan. The Wolverine State cleared 20 people unjustly convicted of murder and other serious offenses as part of 129 reversals across the nation.
Coming in at first, Illinois recorded 22 exonerations in 2020. Of Michigan’s 20 cases, 12 involved murder convictions. Three were for attempted murder, two for child abuse, one for selling or possessing drugs, one for assault and one for robbery.
Six causes leading to wrongful convictions
The Innocence Project reports over 2,400 exonerations in the U.S. since 1989. Meantime, a National Registry of Exonerations report says 2% to 10% of the nation’s prison inmates are wrongly convicted. Criminal reform advocates cite the following as the main factors:
- Fabricated or mistaken eyewitness identification
- False confessions
- Faulty, misleading and misapplied forensic evidence
- False accusations or perjury by informants
- Government and law enforcement misconduct
- Inadequate legal defense
With over 2 million inmates in prisons across the U.S., the likely number of innocent people serving time is staggering, anywhere from 45,000 to 250,000. In Michigan, the range is approximately 750 to 4,000.
Postconviction reviews are essential
The National Registry of Exonerations, founded by the University of Michigan Law School in 2012, credits Wayne County’s Conviction Integrity Unit for helping with 13 of the state’s 20 exonerations in 2020. The unit investigates new evidence proving that a convicted person did not commit the crime.
The Innocence Project has also helped wrongfully convicted individuals overturn sentences through DNA testing. Since 1989, 375 people have been cleared. In many of these cases, DNA testing not only exonerated unjustly convicted persons but led to identifying the actual offenders, providing “real” justice for victims and their families.
Most of Michigan’s overturned cases in 2020 included a combination of official misconduct, misleading DNA evidence and false confessions. Ten of the individuals wrongly convicted were serving life sentences. The oldest conviction was from 1983.