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You sometimes hear stories in the news about people who have been wrongly convicted, served decades in prison and then finally were exonerated thanks to new evidence or the admission by someone else that they committed the crime. It’s heartbreaking to think of how much time these people lost when they did nothing wrong. But how common are these situations? How many innocent people are behind bars?

Of course, it’s impossible to know the exact number. However, we can look at how many people have been exonerated through the use of DNA evidence. This means they got convicted in court, but DNA evidence later showed that they were innocent.

Since the 1980s, this has happened to hundreds of people in the United States. Using that as the baseline, experts can extrapolate the numbers. They estimate, through this method, that about 2% to10% of those in prisons in the U.S. have been wrongfully convicted and would get out if DNA evidence existed to prove it. Naturally, this evidence simply does not exist for every case.

While 2% can seem like a small number of people, but the prison system is huge. Even if that conservative estimate is right, it still means that about 46,000 inmates were falsely convicted and are actually innocent.

Everyone thinks that a wrongful conviction could not possibly happen to them. They assume that the court system will get it right. Unfortunately, the statistics show that this happens far more often than many people realize. It can happen to you. That’s why it is so important to understand your legal options when facing criminal charges.