Each year people who have been convicted of violent crimes are exonerated after having served years in prison. These are tragic cases, and according to the National Registry of Exonerations, Florida has one of the highest rates of exoneration among all of the states. So far this year, 81 people have been exonerated nationwide, and since 1989 (which is as far back as the national registry goes), 1,467 individuals have been exonerated.
A few more startling figures:
- Men and women whose convictions are eventually overturned spend an average of 10 years in prison.
- Of the exonerations listed on the national registry, 60 percent were for sexual assault and murder convictions.
- Of those who have been exonerated this year, more than 60 percent are African American.
To help address this problem that devastates lives, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia has begun taking a different approach to the job of a prosecutor by creating a Convictions Integrity Unit. The specific purpose of the unit is to reassess violent crime convictions if defendants can provide new evidence that might result in a conviction being overturned.
The work of overturning convictions has traditionally been up to defendants, their families, and defense attorneys, but prosecutors’ offices are gradually coming to understand the scope of the problem. In many cases, new technologies have revealed DNA and other biological evidence that warrants an exoneration. Mistaken identification is also a factor in many of these cases.
Conviction integrity units currently exist in some state and district offices, but the Washington unit is unique because Washington, D.C., doesn’t have a state-level government, so local and federal charges are heard in federally operated courts.
Whether the charges are leveled in federal or state court, accused individuals have a right to a fair trial. If you have been accused of a federal or state crime in Florida, then it is crucial that you have a criminal defense attorney who cares about your case and will fight to protect your rights and freedom. Too much is at stake to let overzealous prosecutors simply have their way.