This project began with a remarkable list—a list of 250 names of people exonerated by postconviction DNA testing. This database displays the characteristics of the first 330 DNA exonerees in the United States. In each case, a court or executive vacated the conviction based on newly discovered evidence of innocence, and in each case, new DNA testing conducted after the conviction excluded the defendant. The authoritative list of DNA exonerations is maintained by the Innocence Project at Cardozo Law School and can be viewed on their website. New exonerations occur regularly and this website will be periodically updated.
Trial materials were obtained in the vast majority of these cases, and this database includes excerpts and descriptions of the material from those criminal trials. Materials from some cases involving guilty pleas were also obtained. Researchers can access those trial materials at the Innocence Record website. Confession statements, laboratory reports, and police reports were also obtained from prosecutors, postconviction lawyers, and innocence projects. Those documents are being posted here and can also be viewed on the older version of this resource collection, which is available here. Also collected and cited here are all written judicial decisions from DNA exonerees’ appeals and postconviction proceedings.
The “advanced search” bar allows one to examine these cases closely, selecting which characteristics you would like to learn more about.
- The “general information” bar includes demographic information about the exonerees, the year of conviction, and the state of conviction.
- The “trial information” tab describes the types of sentences, and the types of evidence at their trials.
- The two most common types of evidence supporting these convictions were eyewitness identifications and forensic evidence, and detailed information regarding those types of evidence is presented in the “advanced search” bar.
- The “postconviction” bar includes information about the claims raised by these exonerees on appeal and during state and federal habeas proceedings, as well as how courts ruled on those claims and whether the exonerees obtained relief.
As described in greater detail in the Appendix to “Convicting the Innocent,” certain data, such as data concerning characteristics of exonerees, such as their race, or the race of victims, was also supplemented through news reports and by queries to the Innocence Project and the Innocence Network. Law student research assistants, assisting with this work over many years, conducted the initial coding for each of the sets of data analyzed.
DNA exonerees are a unique group of people. One cannot use their experiences alone to make strong conclusions about how our system treats the innocent more generally or how many people are wrongly convicted. Indeed, “Convicting the Innocent” describes how what makes these exonerations troubling is that we simply do not know to what extent the same problems occur in the vast majority of criminal cases, in which DNA testing cannot tell us whether there was a wrongful conviction. More work should be done to study these exonerations, more work should be done to conduct scientific research on the underlying causes of wrongful convictions, and hopefully this database will assist others in studying and learning from wrongful convictions.