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Investigative Tactics Play Major Role in Record High Exoneration Rates

On Behalf of | Aug 24, 2016 | Wrongful Conviction Attorney, Wrongful Convictions |

There has been a massive increase in the number of exonerations in America as of late, to the point where we have reached a record high. More importantly, there’s been a significant increase in non-DNA related exonerations while those involving DNA have flat lined. The year 2014 was the first exorbitant showcase of non-DNA exonerations, having the most of any previous year at 103 cases.

Taking into consideration that proof of DNA holds significant weight in court, having great success in vindicating criminals with non-DNA evidence is a true feat. Professionals are attributing the phenomenon to the debunking of archaic investigative methods, including forced confessions and bite mark analysis. A professor at the University of San Francisco School of Law claims that it isn’t surprising that there’s been a decline in DNA-based exonerations.

The Issues with Previous Investigative Methods

It wasn’t until approximately 20 years ago that bite mark evidence was considered to be infallible and held up as substantial in the court of law. However, as the years progressed and more research was performed, it was found that a major issue with bite mark analysis is that they can be mistaken for other injuries. Aside from that, bite marks deform over time and their identification is subjective based on the examiner. Given this, its use hasn’t gone extinct but, the reliability is now more widely disputed.

The other common investigative method was that of a forced confession. This was considered the holy grail in criminal defense cases as neither judges nor jurors couldn’t fathom why an individual would confess to a crime they did not commit. Ergo, the confession must be valid. So why has this investigative tactic now become a less reliable form of convicting someone?

The National Registry of exonerations showed that 13 out of 22 forced confessions involving homicide were false and usually involved a mentally handicapped individual. Others who confessed were found to be under the age of 18. These findings have begun to set the tone for forced confessions being overturned in cases.

Other Factors that have Aided Increased Exonerations

Aside from improving our assessment of previous investigative methods, there have been other factors that contributed to the increase in exonerations. In 2014, law enforcement cooperation accounted for 67 exonerations, which was more than half of the exonerations for the year. Also, in 2015, officials committing misconduct led to a fair number of individuals being exonerated.

Being falsely convicted for a crime can be psychologically defeating and also difficult to maneuver around after serving time. If you or anyone you know was tried and convicted for a crime by the use of faulty investigative procedures or misconduct by an official, the Spatz Law Firm may be able to help. Contact us for more information or to have your case reviewed.


Exonerations in America are at a record high, but not because of DNA. (2016, August 18). Retrieved August 24, 2016, from

Exonerations 2014. (n.d.). Retrieved August 24, 2016, from

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