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NRE Report: Race and Wrongful Convictions

"Race is central to every aspect of criminal justice in the United 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." 

The National Registry of Exonerations, an ongoing online archive that includes all known exonerations since 1989, published an updated report on race and wrongful convictions today. The report updates findings from the first report covering the same issues, published in 2017. Since exonerations take an average of 11.6 years to obtain for wrongfully convicted individuals, and the Registry is only able to begin their research after an exoneration has occurred, this time around the Registry was able to take a comprehensive look at a larger number of the investigations and prosecutions that resulted in wrongful conviction.  

Here is an introduction to the report's findings:
  • Black people are 13.6% of the American population but 53% of the 3,200 exonerations listed in the National Registry of Exonerations. Judging from exonerations, innocent Black Americans are seven times more likely than white Americans to be falsely convicted of serious crimes. 
  • We see this racial disparity, in varying degrees, for all major crime categories except white collar crime. This report examines racial disparities in the three types of crime that produce the largest numbers of exonerations: murder, sexual assault, and drug crimes.
  • For both murder and sexual assault, there are preliminary investigative issues that increase the number of innocent Black suspects: for murder, the high homicide rate in the Black community; for rape, the difficulty of cross-racial eyewitness identification. For both crimes, misconduct, discrimination and racism amplify these initial racial discrepancies.
  • For drug crimes, the preliminary sorting that increases the number of convictions of innocent Black suspects is racial profiling. In addition, the Registry lists 17 “Group Exonerations” including 2,975 additional wrongfully convicted defendants, many of whom were deliberately framed and convicted of fabricated drug crimes in large-scale police scandals. The overwhelming majority are Black. 
Read the full report here

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