Former death row inmate John Thompson speaks at a news conference in New Orleans in 2011, after the Supreme Court overturned a $14 million judgment that accused New Orleans prosecutors of withholding evidence in order to help convict Thompson of murder. Thompson spent 18 years in prison, 14 of which death row, before he was exonerated in 2003. (Patrick Semansky/AP). Featured Image
The National Registry of Exonerations (NRE) will soon publish the second part of a study it commissioned of its database of all known false convictions in the United States since 1989. The NRE was kind enough to send me an advance copy. Among the highlights:
* The 2,265 exonerees in the NRE database served a combined 20,080 years behind bars. That’s an enormous amount of wasted human potential.
* In an accompanying and forthcoming law review article, George Washington University law professor Jeffrey Gutman looked at compensation for the wrongly convicted. Between lawsuits and state statutes that award fixed compensation for wrongful convictions, state and municipal governments have paid out $2.2 billion to exonerees. That’s about what Americans spend every year to fight indigestion. Of course, this is nowhere near the total cost of wrongful convictions. To calculate that, you’d need to look at how much it costs to investigate, convict and imprison the wrong person; the effects the wrongful conviction had on that person, his or her family, and his or her community; and any crimes the real culprit committed after authorities apprehended the wrong suspect.
* More than half the exonerees in the database have never been compensated.