Report: Virginia ranks among states with most exonerations made in 2013

A report shows Virginia was among the 10 states with the greatest number of exonerations in 2013; this finding highlights the serious risk of wrongful convictions.

To many people in Manassas, wrongful convictions may seem more like a compelling plot element in a book or movie than something that happens frequently in real life. Unfortunately, statistics reveal a different story. According to The Washington Post, a report shows that in 2013, a record number of wrongfully convicted people were exonerated across the U.S. Virginia was among the states with the greatest number of exonerations, which suggests the risk of wrongful convictions may be high for people facing criminal accusations in the state.

Serious mistakes

A total of 87 people were exonerated in 2013, including four people from Virginia, who were charged with crimes including robbery and abduction. These numbers may not seem substantial, but they are alarming because exonerations likely do not represent the full number of people who are wrongfully convicted. The report notes that the number of exonerations in cases that did not use DNA evidence doubled from 2005 to present, from 34 to 69. This suggests that wrongful convictions are occurring more frequently or that an existing problem is being caught more often.

Shockingly, the report found that in nearly one-third of the wrongful conviction cases that were exonerated in 2013, no crime had actually occurred. This finding underscores the serious risk of wrongful convictions, regardless of the circumstances.

Risk factors

Wrongful convictions can occur for various reasons. The Innocence Project has identified the following factors as some of the most common contributors to wrongful convictions:

  • Poor forensic science or misconduct by forensic professionals
  • Misconduct on the part of other professionals involved in the judicial process
  • Mistakes on the part of eyewitnesses
  • The use of snitches or informants
  • False or incriminating statements made by the accused

These factors can leave innocent people facing convictions and life-changing consequences, even if the fact that the conviction was wrongful later comes to light.

Long-term impacts

In 2013, The Washington Post described the ongoing struggles that one Virginia man faced after a wrongful conviction. The man had served four years in prison for sexual battery before his accuser admitted to making up the story supporting the charges. The state governor issued a conditional pardon, and the man was released from prison days later. However, for 13 months after his release, the man was not fully exonerated.

During that time, the man was required to meet with a probation officer, restricted from traveling and included on the sex offender registry. He struggled to find employment because of the past charges for sex offenses and his status as a sex offender. Eventually, the man may receive compensation from the state, and the victim has been ordered to pay restitution; however, this sum will likely not make up for the time the man spent in prison and the other long-term costs of the conviction.

The risk of wrongful conviction is one that anyone facing criminal charges should appreciate. People accused of crimes in Virginia should protect their rights by consulting with a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.

Keywords: wrongful conviction, exoneration, arrest