Home / Be The Change / The State / 2014 Shows a Record Number of Innocent Prisoners Exonerated. But Why?

2014 Shows a Record Number of Innocent Prisoners Exonerated. But Why?

It is more important that innocence should be protected, than it is, that guilt be punished; for guilt and crimes are so frequent in this world, that all of them cannot be punished…. when innocence itself, is brought to the bar and condemned, especially to die, the subject will exclaim, ‘it is immaterial to me whether I behave well or ill, for virtue itself is no security.’ And if such a sentiment as this were to take hold in the mind of the subject that would be the end of all security whatsoever. -John Adams

According to a recent report from the National Registry of Exonerations at the University of Michigan Law School, 125 falsely accused prisoners were exonerated in 2014. This is actually a record number of exonerations for one year’s time, and is a increase of one-third since 2012.

Oddly, a large number of the exonerated cases were in Harris County, Texas, where 33 innocent people were exonerated after being forced to confess for a lighter sentence. It wasn’t until physical evidence later surfaced that they were found innocent and it has not been revealed whether or not that evidence was withheld by police to secure convictions.

According to the report, “The magnitude of the difference between 2014 and prior years – a 37% increase over 2012 and 2013 – is largely driven by a concentration of 33 exonerations in drug cases in Harris County (Houston) Texas, 30 more than there were in that county in 2013. But 2014 was a record year even without Harris County; there were 91 non-Harris County exonerations in 2014, compared to 88 in 2012 and 87 in 2013.”

The report pointed to the steep and intimidating sentences that many innocent people face when they get arrested, causing many of them to confess to crimes they did not commit.

There is some evidence that pretrial detention and the fear of long terms of imprisonment did influence these false guilty pleas,” the report said.

This intimidation is very real, and is responsible for the very high conviction rate in the US court system.

According to the American Bar Association publication “Criminal Justice,” at least 90% of criminal cases in the United States end up with the defendant pleading guilty or taking a plea deal for a guaranteed lighter sentence.

Earlier this month, we reported on 49-year-old Derrick Hamilton, a former prisoner who was finally exonerated in a case where he was framed by crooked NYPD cops.

This year’s record number of exonerations is good news for the individuals who are finally able to get their freedom back, but it is also disheartening news because it shows just how many people get caught up in the system that don’t even belong there.

In criminal law, Blackstone’s formulation (also known as Blackstone’s ratio or the Blackstone ratio) is the principle that:

“It is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer”

Unfortunately we find ourselves under an authoritarian state in which the opposite view is held. Prosecutors are seemingly more concerned with a win than they are with the truth.

Bismarck is believed to have stated that “it is better that ten innocent men suffer than one guilty man escape.” Pol Pot made similar remarks.

Wolfgang Schäuble referenced this principle while saying that it is not applicable to the context of preventing terrorist attacks.

Alexander Volokh cites an apparent questioning of the principle, with the tale of a Chinese professor who responds, “Better for whom?”

Former American Vice President Dick Cheney said that his support of American use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” against suspected terrorists was unchanged by the fact that 25% of CIA detainees subject to that treatment were later proven to be innocent, including one who died of hypothermia in CIA custody. “I’m more concerned with bad guys who got out and released than I am with a few that in fact were innocent.” Asked whether the 25% margin was too high, Cheney responded, “I have no problem as long as we achieve our objective. . . . I’d do it again in a minute.”


John Vibes is an author, researcher and investigative journalist who takes a special interest in the counter culture and the drug war. In addition to his writing and activist work he is also the owner of a successful music promotion company. In 2013, he became one of the organizers of the Free Your Mind Conference, which features top caliber speakers and whistle-blowers from all over the world. You can contact him and stay connected to his work at his Facebook page. You can find his 65 chapter Book entitled “Alchemy of the Timeless Renaissance” at bookpatch.com.

Close