For many people in Virginia, a false conviction is one of their worst nightmares. The thought of spending years in prison and carrying a felony criminal record despite being innocent is chilling. However, it has also been a reality for far too many people. According to a report from the National Registry of Exonerations, wrongly convicted prisoners lost 1,600 years of life behind bars in 2018 alone. The organization tracks the exoneration of wrongfully convicted people from 1989 moving forward.
It noted that in 2018, 151 people were released from prison after they were found to be wrongfully convicted. Together, those people had served 1,639 years in prison, with an average of 11 years behind bars per person. In many of these cases, official misconduct played a role in the original conviction. In 107 of the 151 cases, misconduct by police, prosecutors or other officials was documented as part of the record. In the 54 homicide cases where defendants were exonerated, 80 percent involved some form of official misbehavior. In 70 of the cases, the alleged crimes never even took place.
Chicago was the home to a number of exonerations linked to corrupt police behavior. Over 40 people have been exonerated since the 2017 uncovering of a police sergeant's corruption scandal. The sergeant ran a ring of corrupt officers who planted drugs on people who refused to pay money extorted from them.
People who have been arrested for a crime they did not commit may have very good reason to fear wrongful conviction. Convictions can carry jail or prison time, hefty fines and a felony criminal record that can damage a person's ability to access employment and housing. However, a criminal defense attorney can help protect a defendant's rights before trial and in court.