Nearly a quarter of a century after DNA testing was used to prove that a defendant had been falsely convicted of a crime, the American public has become familiar with the phenomenon and how the script plays out in our courtrooms.
The exonerated defendant stands before a judge and is informed that the conviction is vacated and the charges are dismissed. And then the former inmate —more than 100 have come from Death Row — is joined by family members and lawyers in a celebration on the courthouse steps.
Yes, it is a joyous occasion to step from behind prison bars after years — as many as 30 years in one case —of being locked up for a crime that was not committed.
But, as a report issued Monday by the National Registry of Exonerations makes clear, behind every one of these jubilant moments are tragedies, some of them of enormous proportion.
The report documents nearly 900 individual cases of exoneration. Combined, these (mostly) men and women served more than 10,000 years in prison for crimes they did not commit. In fact, in more than 100 cases, there was no crime at all — accidents were mischaracterized as murders and crimes were just concocted based on a web of lies and falsehoods.