African-Americans More Likely to be Wrongfully Convicted, Study Finds

Rob Crow

The study noted that most wrongful convictions are never discovered, but that "judging from exonerations, half of those innocent murder defendants are African-Americans". Blacks are more frequently "stopped, searched, arrested and convicted ― including in cases in which they are innocent", researchers write. And when white victims are involved, part of the problem may be the difficulties inherent in cross-racial identifications. Founded in 2012, the registry has tracked exonerations since 1989, with the goal of criminal justice reform that eliminates conviction errors.Last year, there were no death row exonerations, the most common exoneree.Pennsylvania saw just five exonerations in 2016, none in Berks County.As of October, 1,900 men and women in the US have been exonerated since 1989, according to the registry.

In terms of sexual assault, a black prisoner is three-and-a-half times more likely to be innocent than a white person wrongfully convicted of sexual assault. Blacks also received much longer prison sentences than whites who were exonerated of sexual assault charges, spending an average of 4.5 years longer in prison before being cleared.

African-Americans are far more likely to be wrongfully convicted of crimes such as murder, sexual assault and illegal drug activity than whites due to factors including racial bias and official misconduct, a study released on Tuesday said. "Only about 15% of murders by African Americans have white victims, but 31% of innocent African-American murder exonerees were convicted of killing white people". This disparity cuts across all major crimes committed, but the report focuses on the three categories where exonerations are most frequent: murder, sexual assault, and drug crimes.

Of the 1,900 defendants convicted of crimes and later exonerated, 47 percent were African-Americans - three times their representation in the population - according to the study from the National Registry of Exonerations, which examined cases from 1989 to October 2016.

What we can't know is how many innocent people have been put to death in the name of justice.




"Harris County is extremely valuable for our research because it's an unusual example of something you wouldn't otherwise see", said Samuel Gross, a University of MI law professor and senior editor of the study. So the truth is being rooted out more often, but only for a fraction of the wrongful convictions that have occurred. "It appears that innocent black sexual assault defendants receive harsher sentences than whites if they are convicted, and then face greater resistance to exoneration even in cases in which they are ultimately released".

In murder cases, innocent blacks are about seven times more likely than innocent white people to be convicted.

While Jenkins commended the Harris County officials for testing suspected drugs even after a defendant has pleaded guilty, he said there's work to be done when it comes to how law enforcement treats the African-American community. "There's no doubt anymore that innocent people get convicted regularly-that's beyond dispute". But those who are wrongly convicted did not contribute to the murder rate, and instead are "deeply harmed by murders of others", the report says. Others were younger than 18 when they were convicted, or had intellectual disabilities. Exonerations provide a window into the scope."About 40 percent of the exonerations a year ago were the result of official misconducted, according to the annual report by the National Registry of Exonerations".

As NPR's Joe Shapiro reported last year, "after nearly nine years in prison, his conviction was overturned when a state investigation found that the real killer had later confessed to Wayne County police and prosecutors".

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