Report: DNA supports exoneration of 33 convicted of sex assaults in VA

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RICHMOND, Va (WTVR) – DNA evidence from Virginia’s post-conviction testing project supports the exoneration of 33 people convicted of sex crimes between 1973 and 1987, according to a new report from the Urban Institute. The findings also revealed the wrongful conviction rate in the commonwealth is much higher than initially thought.

The study relied on evidence from the commonwealth’s project aimed at testing all physical evidence in cases that led to convictions in the 15 years before DNA testing was widely available. The identities of the 33 people who the Institute believes would be exonerated were not released.

In the new tests completed on the archived DNA information, testing supports exoneration in 5 percent of homicide and sexual assault cases. When examining sexual assault cases alone, that number jumps to anywhere from 8 to 15 percent.

According to the study, these numbers are much higher than what the wrongful conviction rate had previously been estimated at: 3 percent.

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The authors said they chose to focus on Virginia because of the unique nature of the commonwealth’s post-conviction DNA testing program.

Most states wait for those convicted to claim their innocence or submit a request. In Virginia, all cases between 1973 and 1987 where physical evidence was found to still be viable were tested, a total of 634 cases that led to 715 convictions.

Officials say the statistics based on Virginia’s program will more accurately reflect how often DNA testing can be used to identify wrongful convictions nation-wide.