WASHINGTON, Feb. 3 (UPI) -- A record number of people were exonerated of crimes in the United States in 2015, many of them involving minorities and convictions considered difficult to acquit.
The National Registry of Exonerations reports there were 149 known exonerations in 2015, breaking the previous record of 139 set in 2014. Most people who were exonerated last year served an average of 14 1/2 years in prison.
The exonerations occurred in 29 states, Washington, D.C., Guam and in federal courts. The registry, started in 2012 at the University of Michigan Law School, said the rate of exonerations has increased rapidly for several years.
Overall in 2015, at least 58 defendants were exonerated from homicide cases. More than two-thirds of the convicts were minorities, half African American. Five people who were sentenced to death were exonerated last year.
"Exonerations are now common. Not long ago, any exoneration we heard about was major news. Now it's a familiar story. We average nearly three exonerations a week, and most get little attention," the registry said in a statement. "There are now many more exonerations in contexts where they used to be rare, in particular, in cases with innocent defendants who falsely confessed or pleaded guilty."
There were 47 exonerations for drug possession, including 42 who plead guilty in Texas' Harris County. Texas exonerated at least 54 people, the most nationwide, followed by New York's 17 exonerations and Illinois' 13.
"As with climate change, the significance of the issue of false convictions is now widely acknowledged, despite committed doubters. In other respects, we are far behind," the registry said. "We have no measure of the magnitude of the problem, no general plan for how to address it, and certainly no general commitment to do so. We've made a start, but that's all."