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The details about national (and South Dakota) prison exonerations

Wrongful convictions are an unfortunate, but common occurrence handed down by the United States justice system. While the mantra has always been “innocent until proven guilty,” for some parties, it felt like and resulted in the opposite – “guilty until proven innocent,” or a more widespread term; exonerated.

False convictions are a nationwide problem that has led to over 22,000 years lost behind bars, and that number only represents those falsely convicted that have been exonerated since 1989.

Since 1989, 2,490 men and women have been exonerated for crimes they didn’t commit. And on average, lost 8.8 years of their life behind concrete walls, razor wiring, chain-linked fences and metal bars. The following numbers represent detail of the crimes that led to the 2,490 exonerations.

Type of crime

  • Murder: 953 (38%)
  • Sexual assault: 329 (13%)
  • Child sexual assault: 274 (11%)
  • Drug crimes: 325 (13%)
  • Robbery: 129 (5%)
  • Other: 480 (19%)

Race of wrongfully convicted and exonerated

  • Black: 1,216 (49%)
  • White: 929 (37%)
  • Hispanic: 288 (12%)
  • Other: 57 (2%)

Gender of wrongfully convicted and exonerated

  • Men: 2,268 (91%)
  • Women: 222 (9%)

Contributing factors that led to the years lost behind bars include mistaken identity, false confessions, bad forensic evidence, perjury/false accusation and official misconduct.

As they are more populous states with widespread cities, it’s no surprise that Texas, Illinois, New York and California lead the way in exonerations.

How does South Dakota stack up?

Being very sparsely populated with a total population of less than 900,000 people, six exonerations, totaling 18.80 years lost and an average of 3.1 years lost per case have occurred in South Dakota since 1989. The average years lost statistic is skewed considering one individual had to spend over 12 years of his life behind bars for a manslaughter conviction he didn’t commit.

If you find yourself in this unwanted situation, get yourself a criminal defense attorney that will fight to protect your future.