A study released on Tuesday indicates that racial bias in the USA makes African-Americans much more likely to be wrongfully convicted of drug crimes, sexual assault, and murder than white defendants are. The National Registry of Exonerations (NRE) examined cases spanning from 1989 to October 2016, and out of 1,900 people convicted and later exonerated of crimes, black Americans made up 47 percent, a figure over three times their share of the population in the USA. African-Americans are also seven times more likely to be wrongfully convicted of murder than whites, according to the study and are 12 times more likely to be convicted of drug crimes than white Americans. The report noted further discrepancies in murder convictions:
African-American prisoners convicted of murder are about 50 percent more likely to be innocent than other convicted murderers. Part of that disparity is tied to the race of the victim. African-Americans imprisoned for murder are more likely to be innocent if they were convicted of killing white victims. Only about 15 percent of murders by African-Americans have white victims, but 31 percent of innocent African-American murder exonerees were convicted of killing white people.
Samuel Gross, University of Michigan Law School professor and senior editor for the group tracking exonerations, said:
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. Unconscious racial bias, overt discrimination, and institutional racism often play a factor in wrongful convictions.
NRE released a separate study noting that 2016 was a record year for exonerations in the USA, with the most since 1989. There were 166 exonerations, an uptick from 2015’s 160 cases. Harris County in Texas, which includes Houston, showed chiefly drug convictions and was the source for most of the exonerations in the state. There were many instances of people pleading guilty to drug possession, only for crime reports to reveal months and years later that there were no controlled substances in the seized material. There were 52 exonerations for murder across the country, along with 73 exonerations of drug possession and other non-violent crimes. Illinois had the most exonerations in 2016 after Texas, with 16. There were 14 exonerations in New York and 9 in California. The “San Antonio Four”, four Latino women convicted of child sex crimes in the 1990s were the highest-profile exoneration of last year. In the majority opinion, Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Judge David Newell wrote:
Those defendants have won the right to proclaim to the citizens of Texas that they didn’t commit a crime. That they’re innocent. That they deserve to be exonerated… these women have carried that burden. They’re innocent. And they’re exonerated.
8 March 2017