Study: Black Americans More Likely To Be Wrongfully Convicted

Black Americans are seven times more likely than white Americans to be wrongly convicted of serious crimes and spend more time in prison before being exonerated, according to a new report by the National Registry of Exonerations. The in-depth report published on September 27 sheds light on the prevalence of racism in the criminal justice system.

“Race is central to every aspect of criminal justice in the United States,” the report states. “The conviction of innocent defendants is no exception. Thousands of exonerations across dozens of years demonstrate that Black people are far more likely than white people to be convicted of crimes they did not commit.”

“Race and Wrongful Convictions in the United States 2022” is a collaboration between The University of Michigan Law School, Michigan State University College of Law and The University of California, Irvine. Since 1989, it has tracked all known wrongful convictions in the United States. It also investigates the role of race in the convictions of innocent people.

Although Black people only make up about 13 percent of the U.S. population, they account for 53 percent of the more than 3,200 exonerations since 1989. For this study, researchers looked at racial disparities in the three types of crimes that result in the most exonerations: murder, sexual assault and drug crimes.

According to the findings, innocent Black people are 7.5 times more likely than innocent white people to be convicted of murder. The report says this disparity is partly due to the high homicide rate in Black communities. It also highlighted that police misconduct is 50 percent more likely to be involved in the conviction of innocent Black people than in the conviction of innocent white people. 

In addition, the study found that innocent Black people are nearly eight times more likely than White people to be wrongfully convicted of rape. The primary cause of the racial disparity is white victims’ misidentification of Black men. Over the last decade, DNA testing has helped to reduce misidentification.

“A substantial number of the convictions that led to rape exonerations of Black defendants were marred by implicit biases, racially tainted official misconduct and, in some cases, explicit racism,” according to the report.

Despite the fact that Black and white people use illegal drugs at similar rates, 69 percent of drug crime exonerees are Black, while 16 percent are white. This means that innocent Black people are approximately 19 times more likely than innocent white people to be wrongfully convicted of drug crimes.

“We also know of dozens of groups of innocent defendants who were deliberately framed by police officers who planted drugs on them,” the report stated. “Almost all are Black people or other racial or ethnic minorities.”

When the National Registry of Exonerations issued its first report in 2017, there were 1,900 known exonerations from 1989 to October 2016. By August 8, 2022, the number of exonerated innocent people had risen to 3,200, with each serving an average of 12 years in prison. A current list of cases can be found online.

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