Published: Wed, March 08, 2017
Health Care | By Kelly Miles

Black people more likely to be wrongfully convicted of murder

Black people more likely to be wrongfully convicted of murder

Black people in the United States are seven times more likely to be wrongfully convicted of crimes such as murder, sexual assault and illegal drug activity than whites, according to a new study.

The report, "Race and Wrongful Convictions in the United States", also found that Blacks are more likely to spend a longer time behind bars before they are exonerated.

While blacks represent 13% of the U.S. population, they represent a whopping 47% of the 1,900 exonerations in the registry.

"Judging from exonerations, a black prisoner serving time for sexual assault is three and-a-half times more likely to be innocent than a white sexual assault convict". The registry provides detailed information about every known exoneration in the United States since 1989 - cases in which a person was wrongly convicted of a crime and later cleared of all the charges based on new evidence of innocence. "The major cause for this huge racial disparity appears to be the high danger of mistaken eyewitness identification by white victims in violent crimes with black assailants".

The 2016 data show convictions that led to murder exonerations with black defendants were more likely to involve misconduct by police officers than those with white defendants.

Here, to, some convictions that ended up in exonerations were marred by implicit bias, racially tainted official misconduct and, in some cases, explicit racism, it added.

This year researchers chose to go back over its entire history of reporting exonerations dating back to 1989 to examine the role of race in wrongful convictions.

A study last June found that African-Americans are imprisoned at least five times more than whites across the country, the ratio being 10 Black people to one white person in at least five different states.

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According to the report, African Americans convicted of murder "are about 50% more likely to be innocent than other convicted murderers", and that such wrongful convictions, even when later corrected, expands the impact of violence on African American communities. Black men were responsible for 13 percent of sexual assault cases involving white victims, but 57 percent of sexual assault exonerees involving a white victim were black.

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

In addition to the 2,000 exonerations that have occurred since 1989, an additional 1,800 people have been vindicated through "group exonerations".

The study found misconduct in 76 percent of cases that resulted in black murder defendants going to prison for crimes they did not commit, compared to just 65 percent of the cases in which white defendants were wrongfully convicted.

Most of the Texas exonerations were drug convictions in Harris County, home to Houston.

"Most of those defendants are African Americans". The most recent of these group exonerations was just past year. In numerous cases, suspects pleaded guilty to drug possession and months or years later, reports from crime labs showed that seized material contained no controlled substances. A conviction integrity unit at the Cuyahoga County prosecutor's office has begun vacating and dismissing the cases involved.

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". A judge vacated one case because he had inadequate representation and a jury acquitted him on the other."He wasn't exonerated, he was found not guilty", Adams said. Read the special report on the relationship between race and wrongful convictions here.

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