Wrongful Convictions

National Registry of Exonerations

The National Registry of Exonerations is a joint project of the University of the Michigan Law School and the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law. We provide detailed information about every known exoneration in the United States since 1989—cases in which a person was wrongly convicted of a crime and later cleared of all the charges. To see the list of exonerations and information about them, browse our ever-growing database. We currently have over 1,100 recorded.

Click Here To View The National Registry of Exonerations

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Center on Wrongful Convictions

Center on Wrongful Convictions
Northwestern University School of Law
375 East Chicago Avenue
Chicago, Illinois 60611

Phone: (312) 503-2391
Fax: (312) 503-8977

Why Women’s Cases are Different

Innocent women accused of heinous crimes face extraordinary challenges. In many cases, they are suspected of harming their children or other loved ones. As a result, when under investigation, they are coping with deep personal losses, rendering them especially vulnerable to high-pressure interrogation tactics that sometimes lead to false confessions or seemingly inculpatory statements. When women, traditionally viewed as nurturers and protectors, are accused of murdering or sexually abusing children, they are particularly reviled by society, including or course, by police, prosecutors, judges, jurors, and witnesses. In cases in which no crime has occurred such as those arising from accidental or natural deaths that are mistaken for homicides—convictions are likely to ensue. Because the evidence in such cases is often entirely circumstantial, identifying wrongful convictions is difficult and rectifying them is complicated.

In keeping with its mission, the Women’s Project of the Center on Wrongful Convictions (CWC) will focus both on litigation aimed at exonerating women in prison for crimes they did not commit and on public education aimed at raising awareness of the factors that lead to their convictions. The project is well positioned for both endeavors. The CWC’s success in representing innocent women—favorable outcomes in four cases—has provided invaluable experience and insights that will serve the project well. The CWC has formidable research capabilities. It is the repository of the nation’s most extensive files on wrongful convictions and, in partnership with the University of Michigan Law School, it established and maintains the National Registry of Exonerations. The overarching goal of the research is fostering reforms designed to improve the fairness and accuracy of the criminal justice system in ways that make it less treacherous for innocent women.

Background

At a national conference on wrongful convictions in Atlanta in April 2010, Nancy Smith, Gloria Killian, Audrey Edmunds, Julie Rea, and Beverly Monroe found themselves in a sea of male exonerees. As the women discussed their experiences, they were struck both by the common elements of their cases and by the stark differences between their wrongful convictions and those of their male counterparts. Out of those discussions came a vision for a Women and Innocence Conference, which they hosted the following November in Troy, Michigan. The conference was a huge success with nearly a hundred attendees, including exonerees, academics, authors, attorneys, investigators, students, and supporters of not-yet-exonerated women prisoners. Among the attendees were CWC attorneys Karen Daniel, Judy Royal, and Stephanie Horten, who had been members of the legal team that won Julie Rea’s exoneration.

Karen, Judy, and Stephanie knew from experience—the CWC has represented four women—that certain factors occur with frequency in women’s wrongful convictions. For instance, all of the CWC clients were single mothers charged with murdering their children. None of the four had even the slightest apparent motive to kill her child. Yet one of the women had falsely confessed under duress, and the others had made statements that police and prosecutors misconstrued as incriminating. As the CWC lawyers and Julie Rea discussed such commonalities, the need for a wrongful conviction project devoted solely to women became apparent. No such project existed—until the CWC launched its Women’s Project on November 29, 2012.

Moving Forward

In addition to the direct representation of selected clients, the CWC Women’s Project also plans to monitor potential cases of wrongfully convicted women across the country, facilitate the sharing of information about these cases and educate the public about relevant issues. Through research, discussion and interdisciplinary dialogue, we aim to explore the policies and practices that lead to the wrongful convictions of women and the difficulties they face in reentry into society after the trauma of wrongful conviction. Our website will be a resource with information about women’s cases and issues, and we invite other individuals or groups with an interest in exploring these issues to contact us.

Acknowledgments

The Center on Wrongful Convictions gratefully acknowledges the firm of Winston & Strawn LLP, and our Advisory Board members Kimball Anderson and Dan K. Webb, whose generosity has enabled the launching of the Women’s Project.

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