Of the nearly 3,500 people exonerated of serious crimes in the U.S. since 1989, more than half had their cases marred by alleged misconduct by police or prosecutors, according to a national database.
Experts say it’s rare for anyone to be held accountable for the harm — for the coerced confessions, hidden evidence, false testimony and other dubious work that contributes to flawed convictions.
The pending perjury trial of three retired Philadelphia police detectives could prove to be an exception, if they are not cleared by alleged mistakes by District Attorney Larry Krasner’s office, reports the Associated Press.
Former detectives Martin Devlin, Manuel Santiago and Frank Jastrzembski have asked a judge to dismiss the case.
A confluence of factors allowed Krasner to charge the three in the case of exoneree Anthony Wright, who was convicted of the 1991 rape and murder of an elderly widow. The detectives had testified at his retrial in 2016, reopening a five-year window to file perjury charges.
Wright was arrested at age 20. He spent two decades in prison before DNA testing seemingly cleared him of the crime. Nonetheless, Krasner’s predecessor chose to retry him, and called the detectives out of retirement.
Besides the DNA, the other key piece of evidence in the retrial was Wright’s confession. His lawyers argued that it was coerced. The detectives denied it. Wright was acquitted.
Krasner has obtained 40 exonerations and has pursued police perjury cases.
Experts an cite just a handful of similar efforts to charge police or prosecutors in their cases. Meanwhile, public agencies across the country have paid out $4 billion to compensate people for the nine years, on average, they wrongly spent in prison, according to The National Registry of Exonerations.
Wright is black. Black people make up 13.6% of the U.S. population but 54% of the 3,433 exonerations studied. (The total is now 3,464.) They lose more years of their lives — 10.1 years vs. 7.7 years for white people and 8.3 years for Hispanic people — before being cleared.