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The trend of exoneration and identifying the problem

In North Carolina and throughout the country, there is an increase in exonerations for those who have been wrongfully convicted. Many spent years and even decades in prison for crimes they did not commit. As technology advances and old cases are re-examined, Time Magazine states that there are at least three exonerations each week. 

Many convictions have been overturned as prosecutorial offices around the country face greater accountability. Some counties have even set up special review units or second-look procedures to examine questionable convictions. In 1996, there were only 47 convictions overturned, and recently there were at least 166 reported each year.  

Experts believe that law enforcement officials, judges and prosecutors are realizing how common it is to send innocent people to prison, rather than a novelty that only happens once or twice. More than half of the exonerations involve false accusation or perjury from a witness. This problem is especially noticeable in child sex abuse cases or homicide cases. Witness identification is increasingly unreliable, and misidentification is common in sexual assault cases. 

Since 1989, DNA has played a significant role in 25% of exonerations. Over the last ten years, the rate of exonerations related to DNA has remained consistently at about 20 cases each year. Along with these problems, those who have been accused of crimes face underlying issues in the criminal justice system and law enforcement.  

Out of 100 people sentenced to death for crimes, there are likely four that are innocent, and only two who have been exonerated for their crimes. In The National Registry of Exonerations there are over 2,000 people who have been exonerated and experts believe that is only a small fraction of the number who are truly innocent. The wrongfully convicted often lose large portions of their lives to jail or prison for crimes they did not commit.