The National Registry of Exonerations concluded that 125 people, including six inmates who were sentenced to death, were exonerated in 2014. With the highest number of exonerations of any year to date, 2014 also saw a shift in the types of crime that people were exonerated for.
Previously, the highest number of exonerations in one year was 91, which occurred in 2012. In 2013, one-third of them involved non-homicide non-sex crimes. However, in 2014, nearly 50 percent of exonerations involved improper convictions for non-homicide non-sex crimes, and drug crimes accounted for 31 percent. The high exoneration rate was due in large part to the increase in Conviction Integrity Units, which research false convictions, however an unusually high number of people were exonerated in one Texas county.
But beyond the outstanding number of exonerations last year, one demographic group was disproportionately impacted: African-Americans. Registry data showed that 66 black people were exonerated for a wide range of crimes. Exactly half of them were cleared for murder charges, 14 were cleared of drug sale or possession charges, and 11 were absolved of sexual assault charges. Seven were serving life sentences and three were serving life sentences with no chance of parole. Moreover, 100 percent of exonerated persons on death row were black.
The number of black people cleared of their crimes in 2014 matches up with long-term trends. The U.S. has absolved 1,536 people of their crimes, and black people have the highest rate of exoneration. Nearly 715 of them have been cleared, to date. This can be attributed to the fact that there are more African Americans in the U.S. prison system than any other race group. Roughly one-third of all African-American males will serve time in prison, in part due to disparate interactions with police. For instance, the Department of Justice concluded that black men are searched three times more than white men when officers make a traffic stop. White men are six times less likely to be incarcerated than black men. And the U.S. Sentencing Commission determined that, on average, black men serve sentences that are 20 percent longer than the ones imposed on their white counterparts who committed similar crimes.