The next time you demand the criminal system move faster in resolving a case, realize how the criminal system impacts on innocent lives. Critically, these numbers show the problem with the death penalty: the real possibility of the State committing murder by killing the wrong person.
According to the National Registry of Exonerations, http://www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/Documents/Exonerations_in_2015.pdf, 2015 was a record year for exonerations in America — 149 in all, 58 of those coming from wrongful convictions in homicide cases. And the latest report from the National Registry of Exonerations, released this week, provides invaluable insight into how all those people ended up losing all those years (14.5 on average) for crimes they did not commit. 27 exonerations in 2015 were for convictions based on false confessions, another record. More than 80% of these false confessions were in homicide cases (22/27), mostly by defendants who were under 18 or mentally handicapped or both. For example: In 2006, Bobby Johnson, a barely-literate 16-year-old with an IQ of 69, was interrogated by two New Haven, Connecticut detectives about the murder of Herbert Fields. The detectives told Johnson (falsely) that they had physical evidence tying him to the murder and that he would face the death penalty if convicted (also a lie). They promised him probation if he confessed. Johnson did confess and was convicted and sentenced to 38 years. He was exonerated in 2015, nine years later, after it was discovered that the police had concealed evidence that identified the real killer. In Wisconsin, I am personally aware of the criminal prosecution of a mentally retarded man based in substantial part on his confession. His name was Ronald Paccagnella who was charged with first degree intentional homicide and first degree sexual assault due to a false confession but the charges were dismissed prior to trial.
Incredibly, official misconduct resulted in 65 exonerations in 2015, a record number. Three-quarters of homicide exonerations in 2015 included known official misconduct (44/58). Milke’s was an example: In 1990, Debra Milke was sentenced to death in Phoenix for conspiring with the two men who abducted and murdered her four-year old son, ostensibly in order to collect on a $5,000 insurance policy. The only substantial evidence against her was testimony by Detective Armando Saldate, Jr., who was sent to interrogate her with an explicit order to record the interrogation—which he did not do. Saldate told the jury that Milke flashed her breasts at him, offered sex, and then later confessed to the murder. Milke denied it all. Milke was exonerated in 2015 because her attorneys eventually discovered that the state had concealed Saldate’s extraordinary history. It turned out that Saldate (in addition to other types of misconduct) was responsible for four earlier cases in which judges tossed out confessions or indictments because he committed perjury, and four other cases in which judges suppressed confessions or vacated convictions because Saldate violated the constitution in conducting interrogations.
Also judges need to be more cautious in taking guilty pleas : 65 exonerations in 2015 were for convictions based on guilty pleas, more than any previous year. The great majority were drug cases (46/65), but eight were homicide exonerations—all of which included false confessions. Of course, one may wonder why someone who is innocent would enter a guilty plea.
Again judges need to examine decisions they make. Defendants who plead guilty, especially defendants with criminal records, generally cannot post the comparatively high bails that are set for them and who risk substantial terms in prison if convicted—agreed to attractive plea bargains at their initial court appearances, despite their innocence, rather than remain in pretrial custody and risk years in prison.
Specifically, in 2015 Wisconsin had 4 exonerations. Since 1989, in Wisconsin, there has been 43 exonerations amounting to an average year lost of 6.81: with 293 years total. This is broken down as follows:
21 sex crimes
Racially divided as: