While DNA can play a huge role in exonerations, in 2014, 103 of 125 exonerations actually didn't involve DNA, according to the National Registry of Exonerations.
In a record year of exonerations in the United States, Texas led the way with 39 innocent people being exonerated of criminal convictions.
There were 125 exonerations across the country in 2014. This is the first time the Registry found more than 100 instances of faulty convictions that put innocent people behind bars.
“The big story for the year is that more prosecutors are working hard to identify and investigate claims of innocence. And many more innocent defendants were exonerated after pleading guilty to crimes they did not commit,” Samuel Gross, editor of the National Registry of Exonerations and author of the 2014 exonerations report, said in a news release.
And Harris County played a huge part in the uptick in exonerations due to drug cases, according to the National Registry of Exonerations. That's because of the Harris County District Attorney's Post Conviction Review Section found defendants were pleading guilty to drug possession despite crime lab analyses that turned up negative results concerning the evidence.
Following Texas is New York with 17 exonerations, Illinois and Michigan with seven, Ohio with six, North Carolina with four, and Louisiana, Maryland, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Tennessee with three exonerations.
The data from 2014 reflect longterm trends in exonerations, according to the National Registry of Exonerations.
Out of 125 known exonerations, 67 had the support and cooperation of law enforcement, the highest number in a single year. Nearly all drug crime exonerations, about 38 percent, were for convictions obtained through guilty pleas. Non-DNA exonerations increased, with 103 out of 125 being non-DNA exonerations, another record. And in 46 percent of all known exonerations in 2014, no crime actually occurred.
“Judging from known exonerations in 2014, the legal system is increasingly willing to act on innocence claims that have often been ignored: those without biological evidence or with no perpetrator who can be identified because in fact no crime was committed; cases with comparatively light sentences; and judgments based on guilty pleas by defendants who accepted plea bargains to avoid pre-trial detention and the risk of harsher punishment after trial,” the report states.
You can read the report here: