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Wrongful convictions: new report shows numbers continue to grow

A newly-freed Marco Contreras hugs his father.
A newly-freed Marco Contreras hugs his father.
Courtesy of Loyola Law School

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It's been a good run for a special project at L.A.'s Loyola Law School.

Their Project for the Innocent Program has successful secured the freedom for three wrongfully convicted men over the past few months. For more on that story, click here.

But there are a number of groups doing similar work across the country and they're convinced there are lots of people sitting behind bars who shouldn't be there. 

Now, there's some new data about the number of inmates who may have been wrongfully convicted. It’s a new report from a group called The National Registry of Exonerations.

Once again, KPCC’s Frank Stoltze has been reviewing it and he's joined A Martinez for more.

Exonerations vs. wrongfully convicted?

"We hear both terms a lot in this discussion of innocence, they're essentially the same. They refer to someone who didn't get a fair trial and should not have been convicted. Bad evidence, bad lawyers. They're not always found factually innocent by a judge. They usually are if the local prosecutor supports that if they find for instance the real perpetrator. But sometimes, they're not found innocent, they've just gotten a bad trial and ordered released from prison."

How many exonerations were there last year?

"Well, 2016 set another record for exonerations in the U.S., 166. There were 160 the year before. In total, the registry has recorded 1,994 known exonerations since 1989, so almost 2000 people. But the rates have been rapidly increasing since 2011, the annual number of exonerations has more than doubled. On average each week, three people are exonerated of crimes they spent time for. Geographically, Texas has the most: 58. Illinois: 16, New York: 14, California: nine."

How do wrongful convictions even happen? 

"What folks at Loyola tell me and prosecutors when they say that there are any number of them, tell me. It's a lot of times eyewitness identification. People either get the ID wrong, we know that cross racial identifications are difficult often. But sometimes they're sort of nudged to pick someone during the line up process. Police, detectives will say, 'what about that guy over there? That guy A Martinez looks like he's probably the one that did it.' They won't be quite so obvious, and there's a lot less of that nowadays, but that does happen..."

To listen to the full segment, click the blue play button above.