Black People More Likely to Be Wrongfully Convicted in U.S., Says Report

The National Registry of Exonerations report analyzed data on crimes for which exonerations are most common.

Brian Banks had a promising football career when he was convicted at age 16 for a rape crime he did not commit. Banks was exonerated in 2012 after serving five years. TWITTER

There has been prior research pointing to racial bias and official misconduct contributing to higher wrongful conviction rates for Blacks than for whites. But the National Registry of Exonerations (NRE) not only documents such instances; it also supplies a consistent source of data to explore what is driving that disparity.

A NRE report, “Race And Wrongful Convictions In The United States,” released last week, examined U.S. cases from 1989 to October 2016. Of the 1,900 defendants convicted of crimes and later exonerated, 47 percent were African Americans — three times their representation in the population, which is 13 percent.

The analysis focuses on sexual assaults, murder and drug-related offenses. These are the crimes for which exonerations are most common.

According to the study, Blacks were almost seven times more likely to be wrongfully convicted of murder than whites. Forty percent of Blacks were convicted of murder but are 50 percent of those wrongfully convicted, whereas 36 percent of whites were wrongfully convicted of a crime.

The report said that the high homicide rate in the Black community is one of the causes of the high number of Blacks exonerated for murder.

But the authors note that this alone does not explain the disparity between Blacks and whites in regard to wrongful convictions. Official misconduct also plays a role.

“In the murder cases we examined, the rate of official misconduct is considerably higher in cases where the defendant is African American compared to cases where the defendant is white,” Samuel Gross, a University of Michigan Law School professor who is senior editor of the group that tracks U.S. exonerations, told Reuters.

The report said that convictions, which led to murder exonerations with Black defendants, were 22 percent more likely to include misconduct by police officers than those with white defendants.

On average Black murder exonerees spent three years longer in prison before release than white murder exonerees, and those sentenced to death spent four years longer in prison.

Also in regard to racial disparity, about 15 percent of all murders committed by Black individuals involve white victims, the report said. But 31 percent of Blacks eventually exonerated were initially convicted of killing white people.

“African American prisoners who are convicted of murder are about 50 percent more likely to be innocent than other convicted murderers,” according to the authors.

“Many of the convictions of African American murder exonerees were affected by a wide range of types of racial discrimination, from unconscious bias and institutional discrimination to explicit racism.”

In regard to sexual assault, the report said that a Black prisoner is three-and-a-half times more likely to be innocent than a white sexual assault convict.

Researchers discovered that assaults on white women by Black men are a small minority of all sexual assaults in the country, “but they constitute half of sexual assaults with eyewitness misidentifications that led to exoneration.”

They found that convictions that led to sexual assault exonerations were not only cases of misidentification but also included instances of implicit biases, racially tainted official misconduct “and, in some cases, explicit racism.”

The authors said the racial disparities are especially stark for drug cases. Blacks are about 12 times more likely to be wrongfully convicted than innocent white people.

The report indicates that police enforce drug laws more vigorously against Blacks than against members of the white majority, “despite strong evidence that both groups use drugs at equivalent rates.”

African Americans are more frequently stopped, searched, arrested and convicted — including in cases in which they are innocent. The extreme form of this practice is systematic racial profiling in drug-law enforcement, the report said.

Since 1989, more than 1,800 defendants have been cleared in “group exonerations” that followed 15 large-scale police scandals in which officers systematically framed innocent defendants.

A NRE companion report said that 166 exonerations in 2016 set a record high for the third year in a row, averaging more than three per week. This pushes the registry past 2,000 exonerations for people who were wrongly convicted. About half of the people exonerated for non-drug related crimes in 2016 were Black. In contrast, roughly two-thirds of those exonerated for drug possession or sale last year were Black.

From The National Registry of Exonerations. Note: Percentages are updated periodically. Click here.

The authors of the report cautioned: “The record numbers of exonerations that we have seen in recent years have not made a dent in the number of innocent defendants who have been convicted and punished.

“The number of those who are cleared and released is simply a function of the resources that are available to reinvestigate and reconsider cases on the one hand, and the level of resistance to doing so on the other.”

The National Registry of Exonerations is a joint project of the University of California Irvine Newkirk Center for Science and Society, University of Michigan Law School and Michigan State University College of Law. 

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  • Every American knows this . We have forever kept a close watch on African Americans . So this is no surprise . Since we all know this , the questions are (1) Why do we do this (2) Why do we look the other way (3) Do we believe that we can continue to pack the prisons with them (4) Or do we just contour to whisper about it in our safe zones and go about life as we usually do ?

    • And every American, sorry to say, also knows that part of the reason more blacks are wrongfully convicted is that more blacks are rightfully convicted, because statistics, and, often, personal experience, show that American blacks commit an upwardly-disproportionate number of violent crimes.

      For instance, according to U.S. News , September ’16, black people have consistently accounted for close to half the country’s homicide victims, making up more than 50 percent of the broader pool of those killed overall every year since 2010. Of the 13,455 cases from last year in which the FBI listed a victim’s racial information, 7,039 victims were black. That compares with 5,854 cases in which the victim was white. But 2015 Census estimates suggest that whites account for 77.1 percent of the overall U.S. population, while blacks comprise 13.3 percent. FBI statistics also show that among the roughly 6,000 cases in which the race of the victim and the offender were reported and tallied, the number of blacks killed by blacks was 2,380 last year. The number of white people known killed by other whites was 2,574 in 2015. This would all seem to show that, in criminal homicide, blacks as both killer and victim appear to be over-represented by a factor of approximately 3 or 4.

      • It’s just a little more complicated than the zombie web site’s simplistic analysis shows. Did you know the number one search keyword for is nutrisystem?

        The war on drugs is 40 years old. Before the war, black and white arrests/population for drugs were roughly equal. Since the war began, ‘African Americans represent 12% of the total population of drug users, but 38% of those arrested for drug offenses, and 59% of those in state prison for a drug offense.’

        If our country tattooed a large orange R on everyone’s forehead whose name began with the letter R, and subjected them to the same “law enforcement” as Black people get, you’d have similar results.

        • ‘Tain’t U.S. News, and it ain’t analysis. it’s the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s, Comey’s, numbers. And there’s year after year after year of very, very similar numbers, throughout the Obama presidency.

          • The top 11 people at the FBI are white. If Blacks are so criminally oriented, wouldn’t it make sense to have a few “experts” at the top? It took a mighty effort of bigoted talent development to get the results the achieved. I don’t believe their data is complete or accurate.

            If they were any good, 9/11 wouldn’t have happened, nor the sub-prime crisis, nor the heroin epidemic. They’re graded on the white curve. As a business, they’d have been gone years ago because they’re terrible at what they do.

          • I know that you weren’t implying that under President Obama’s tenure crime we black people went more criminal, so I won’t digress to challenging that. I do want to note that these are arrest statistics that are cited, but invite you to search for the FBI’s Director’s comments on race and crime to get a clearer picture. But the point of this article is ration of wrongly convicted — not a surprise to black people either. What hasn’t come up in the discussion is that the guilty offenders are still out there, and the data somewhat reflects that any black person will do.

            There are a number of causes, especially for drug offenses with the difference in sentencing guidelines (crack cocaine vs. powder), and the amounts of intent to sell. The biases of judges and juries (sometimes their color doesn’t matter) can be another issue. I’ve been the only black person on a jury when we tended to deliberate longer and follow the judges instructions when the defendant was white, but tended to be quicker in attempting to reach a guilty verdict on black defendants. I tended to make those deliberations a little longer.

            I am not diminishing the horror of any crime, it’s impact among victims, including black victims. But the sad part about this, as it is with other areas of our society, is that as many or more crimes are committed by whites, yet unless it’s sensational or involving an elite group, it goes underreported. Black crime is sensationalized, but light needs to be shined on non-minority communities as well. The secrecy of day-to-day crimes among whites needs to stop. White-on-white crime is a reality too.

    • Terry, exactly right. What is so frustrating is the so many people who go along with reibson here. People don’t want to open their eyes, because then they will have to admit they are dead wrong; How will they be able to live with themselves then?

  • If we don’t stop the cause of these statistics things will stay the same or get worse. Undo law enforcement officials’ training, education, and experiences before they happen in the community. That type of training exists.

  • White racist bias is NEVER unconscious! As an African American female lawyer who attended a Catholic (Jesuit) law school in the Midwest the racist explicit bias against African Americans was palpable and perpetuated by the white and Jewish law professors. After transferring to an Atlanta law school, the same explicit racist bias was similar–this is where judges and lawyers are brainwashed to stereotype African Americans as “criminally minded.”

    During and after law school, whites have already developed pre-conceived notions of Blacks criminality. Whites commit more crimes than anyone, but they intentionally overlook and ignore their own individual and mass murderous (i.e., genocidal) tendencies. The criminal JUST US system is criminal in giving Blacks longer sentences. Even in the prosecutor’s (aka prostituter’s) office, most cases for whites would be nolle prosequi (charges dismissed) for similar offenses by Blacks, but D.A.’s (aka Dumb As*es) would prosecute Blacks and send them to jail or prison, even for minor offenses.

    Michael Moore in his movie “What to Invade Next” did an exceptional job in researching the disparity between false charges and imprisonment, including unjust, cruel and unusual punishment of Blacks. There is a direct correlation between the unfair imprisonment of Blacks and modern-day plantations. I’ve personally been in courtrooms and witnessed the inequities and unjust prosecution, including stacking of charges against Blacks, to ensure that they receive longer jail or prison sentences. White females are just as vicious as white males in their unjust prosecutorial zeal. These “prostituters” and “Dumb As*” attorneys use prosecuting Blacks to advance their careers. Most judges are former racist prostituters, Dumb As*es or KKKops–they get brainwashed about Black criminality in law school, practice racism in courtrooms, and then get to fulfill their racist animus by sending more Blacks to prison as [drunken, cocaine-using, or pill-popping] judges. They put the “JUST US” in the criminal legal system. If I knew then what I know now (after 43 years in the legal profession), I would have had more respectability as a garbage collector–at least I would have picked up on the smell on day one and knew what I was getting into.

      • Forgive me, can’t resist: After reading many of ZJ’s posts here, I’d guess that ZJ’s specialty is insanity defense law.

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