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Report: Record Number of Exonerations in US in 2015

El Reno Federal Correctional Institution in Oklahoma, July 16, 2015. A new report said the United States had a record number of exonerations in 2015.

A new report said the United States had a record number of exonerations in 2015.

The National Registry of Exonerations, a project of the University of Michigan Law School, said 149 people were exonerated last year, a number that has more than doubled since 2011.

The wrongful convictions were spread out across 29 states, the District of Columbia, Guam and federal courts. But the southwestern U.S. state of Texas was by far responsible for the most exonerations, with 54, followed by 17 in New York and 13 in Illinois.

"There is a growing awareness that false convictions are a substantial, widespread and tragic problem," the report said. "Increasingly, Americans realize that we convict innocent people of crimes on a regular basis."

More than two-thirds of those exonerated had been convicted in homicide and drug cases, and five people had been sentenced to death.

Heightened focus

The report comes at a time of heightened focus on the U.S. criminal justice system.

In the past few years there have been high-profile cases involving police misconduct, especially against African-Americans, that drew headlines and protests, while podcasts and television series exploring the cases of people serving sentences for murders have garnered huge followings.

"The most striking thing about these exonerations, however, is the nature of the underlying convictions," the report said. "The list of exonerations in 2015 includes record numbers of homicide cases with false confessions and official misconduct, with convictions based on guilty pleas, and cases in which no crime in fact occurred."

The report lists 27 exonerations in cases that involved false confessions, 65 that featured official misconduct and 65 more where the person was convicted based on a guilty plea. Another 75 cases involved one where the report said no crime took place.