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Criminal exonerations in U.S. reach record levels

If you were to hear that 87 people were exonerated from their crimes over a period of time in the U.S., you would probably think it would be over a couple of weeks, or maybe a month, right? "The criminal justice system must find botched cases all the time," so the thinking goes -- and though that's not an incorrect way to think, the breadth and depth of the statement is simply lacking.

In fact, those 87 people who were exonerated? That was the total number of people exonerated in the U.S. for all of 2013. As surprising as that may be, that figure also marks the highest number of exonerations in a given year in the U.S. since the 1980s.

There are a couple of things to take away from this story, and the first is that exonerations are rare. This is not an act that is made for any convicted or incarcerated person. There needs to be substantial evidence to contradict, and eventually overturn, a person's conviction.

But when it does happen, it really makes you question the system in general. For example, there was a man who served 20 years in jail for a double homicide before he was exonerated. It turned out he was locked up when the crime actually occurred.

The failings of the system are real. The police could be negligent in their investigation; prosecutors may make a mistake during the process of building a case against the accused person; or a clerical error at any point could violate due process.

Source: Wall Street Journal, "Criminal Exonerations at All-Time High," Jacob Gershman, Feb. 4, 2014

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