US National Registry of Exonerations reports racial disparities among wrongful convictions
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US National Registry of Exonerations reports racial disparities among wrongful convictions

The National Registry of Exonerations (NRE) Tuesday released a report stating that black people in the United States are seven times more likely than white people to be falsely convicted of serious crimes, more likely to be the targets of police misconduct and spend more time in prison before being exonerated.

NRE has documented and analysed more than 3,200 exonerations for murder, sexual assault, and drug crimes since 1989, finding alarming racial disparities, especially for drug crime exonerations. Although Black people are only 13.6 percent of the American population, they make up 53 percents of NRE exonerations. NRE also found 17 “Group Exonerations” of 2,975 defendants, mostly Black and Latino or Hispanic, wrongfully convicted of drug crimes due to the systematic misconduct by police in Chicago, Cleveland, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia and elsewhere.

Innocence Project Executive Director Christina Swarns said:

The report really shows the depth of the belief that race is a proxy for criminality in the criminal legal system…It’s hard to wrap your head around how much of a failure this is that we have jurisdictions that fail people this spectacularly, and then refuse to acknowledge it and then refuse to sort of make it right … The weight of all of that and the burden of trying to correct all of that is carried by my clients, which is insane to be charitable.

According to the NRE, these disproportionate figures are primary due to cognitive biases, higher homicide rates in some Black communities, consistent misidentification of Black suspects by white victims, known as cross-racial identification, and outright racism. In 2017, NRE released a similar report showing many of the same disparities.

NRE is a project of the Newkirk Center for Science and Society at the University of California, Irvine, University of Michigan Law School and Michigan State University College of Law and was founded in 2012 in conjunction with the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law.