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In general, an exoneration occurs when a person who has been convicted of a crime is officially cleared after new evidence of innocence becomes available. 

A more precise definition follows.

Exoneration—A person has been exonerated if he or she was convicted of a crime and, following a post-conviction re-examination of the evidence in the case, was relieved of all the consequences of the criminal conviction, and either: (1) was declared to be factually innocent by a government official or agency with the authority to make that declaration; or (2) received (i) a complete pardon by a governor or other competent authority, whether or not the pardon is designated as based on innocence, or (ii) an acquittal of all charges factually related to the crime for which the person was originally convicted, in a court of the jurisdiction in which the person was convicted, or (iii) a dismissal of all charges related to the crime for which the person was originally convicted, by a court or by a prosecutor with the authority to enter that dismissal. The pardon, acquittal, or dismissal must have occurred after evidence of innocence became available that either (i) was not presented at the trial at which the person was convicted; or (ii) if the person pled guilty, was not known by the defendant and the defense attorney at the time the plea was entered. The evidence of innocence need not be an explicit basis for the official act that exonerated the person. A person who otherwise qualifies has not been exonerated if there is unexplained physical evidence of that person's guilt.

Exoneree—A person who was convicted of a crime and later officially declared innocent of that crime, or relieved of all legal consequences of the conviction because evidence of innocence that was not presented at trial required reconsideration of the case.



Arson Case—the exoneree was convicted of arson, or the exoneration depended at least in part on evidence that the exoneree did not commit arson.

Bitem​ark—The exoneree was convicted based at least in part on bitemark evidence.

Child Sex abuse Hysteria (CSH)—A case in which the exoneree was convicted of child sex abuse as part of a wave of child sex abuse prosecutions in the 1980s and 1990s based on aggressive and suggestive interviews of children who were thought to be victims. These cases generally included bizarre and implausible claims by the supposed victims, frequently featuring satanic rituals.

Co-Defendant Confessed (CDC)—A codefendant of the exoneree, or a person who might have been charged as a codefendant, gave a confession that also implicated the exoneree.

Conviction Integrity Unit (CIU)—A Conviction Integrity Unit in the prosecutorial office that prosecuted the exoneree helped secure the exoneration. (This does not necessarily mean that the prosecutorial office in question made a factual determination that the defendant is innocent.)

D​NA - ​​Cases denoted "DNA" are cases in which post-conviction DNA testing, analysis, or interpretation ​was conducted and the results were a factor in establishing the factual basis of the exoneration.​​

False Confession (FC)—A confession is a statement made to law enforcement at any point during the proceedings which was interpreted or presented by law enforcement as an admission of participation in or presence at the crime, even if the statement was not presented at trial. A statement is not a confession if it was made to someone other than law enforcement. A statement that is not at odds with the defense is not a confession. A guilty plea is not a confession.

False or Misleading Forensic Evidence (F/MFE)—Faulty or misleading expert or forensic evidence may have led to a factually erroneous conclusion, at any stage of the investigation or adjudication, that contributed to the false conviction.

Homicide (H)—Exoneree was convicted of either murder or manslaughter.

Inadequate Legal Defense (ILD)—The exonoree's lawyer at trial provided obviously and grossly inadequate representation.

Innocence Organization (IO)—An innocence organization helped secure the exoneration. This only includes innocence organizations that are independent of government bodies - it does not include CIUs or Innocence Commissions.

Jailhouse Informant (JI)—A witness who was incarcerated with the exoneree testified or reported that the exoneree confessed to him or her.​

Juvenile Defendant (JV)​—The exoneree was under the age of 18 at the time of the offense.

Mistaken Witness Identification (MWID)—At least one witness mistakenly identified the exoneree as a person the witness saw commit the crime.​

No Crime (NC)—The exoneree was convicted of a crime that did not occur, either because an accident or a suicide was mistaken for a crime, or because the exoneree was accused of a fabricated crime that never happened.

Official Misconduct (OM)—Police, prosecutors, or other government officials significantly abused their authority or the judicial process in a manner that contributed to the exoneree's conviction.

Perjury or False Accusation (P/FA)—A person other than the exoneree committed perjury by making a false statement under oath that incriminated the exoneree in the crime for which the exoneree was later exonerated, or made a similar unsworn statement that would have been perjury if made under oath.

Posthumous exoneration (PH)—An exoneration of a person after that person died, including cases in which a living codefendant was exonerated under circumstances that clearly indicate that the deceased person would have been exonerated if he or she were alive.

Sexual Assault (SA) - the exoneree was convicted and exonerated of a sexual assault crime, or could have been charged with a sexual assault for the criminal conduct for which they were exonerated.​​​

Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS)—The exoneree was convicted of injuring or killing an infant by violent shaking, based on a medical diagnosis that is now highly controversial.

Witness Tampering (WT) — Officials improperly tampered with a witness who testified against the exoneree but did not confess to the crime at issue, or they committed misconduct in interrogating an actual or potential codefendant who confessed and implicated the exoneree.