Study finds Harris County leads nation in exonerations

Posted March 08, 2017

Almost half, or 47 percent, of exonerees were black, although they account for only 13 percent of USA population.The report also found almost half of the 2016 exonerees had pleaded guilty but later were found through lab testing or DNA not to have committed the crime.The report's author said this indicates a broken bail system that detains the poor until trial.

As in past years, Texas leads the country in exonerations, many of them for nonviolent drug crimes.

For example, the researchers found that some of the disparity is driven in large part by higher murder rates in black communities.

A report from the National Registry of Exonerations shows a record number of wrongfully convicted people were cleared across the country a year ago, including four Virginians.

A black person imprisoned for sexual assault is 3.5 times more likely to be innocent than a white inmate convicted on similar charges. The reason? Mistaken eyewitness identification: White people are more likely to mistake one black person for another than they are to misidentify members of their own race.

A companion report to the Registry's annual list found that African-American prisoners convicted of murder are about 50 percent more likely to be innocent than others convicted of murder.

Gross said the rate of illegal drug use is roughly the same for whites and blacks, but the number of arrests and convictions is much higher for African-Americans than for whites.

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A new report from the National Registry of Exonerations has confirmed what we already knew (I know most of y'all ain't surprised): Black people are more likely to be wrongfully convicted than their white counterparts, and they are also more likely to spend a longer time behind bars before they are exonerated. "Only about 15% of murders by African Americans have white victims, but 31% of innocent African-American murder exonerees were convicted of killing white people".

"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 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. "One possibility is that they're more conscientious. It appears that innocent black sexual assault defendants receive harsher sentences than whites if they are convicted, and then face greater resistance to exoneration even in cases in which they are ultimately released".

Many more are innocent, but not yet cleared.

"It's no surprise that in this area, as in nearly any other that has to do with criminal justice in the United States, race is the big factor", said Samuel R. Gross, a University of MI law professor and a senior editor of the registry. Hispanic men were 1.7 times more likely than whites to be killed by officers.

While Jenkins commended the Harris County officials for testing suspected drugs even after a defendant has pleaded guilty, he said there's work to be done when it comes to how law enforcement treats the African-American community. But those who are wrongly convicted did not contribute to the murder rate, and instead are "deeply harmed by murders of others", the report says.

This was also the third straight year there have been a record number of exonerations in drug cases. This is not to dismiss issues of race and how it affects jury decisions and eyewitness accounts-but many police and prosecutors are more than willing to use and abuse those issues to get "results". A study published three years ago in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science found that, conservatively, about 4% of people on death rows were likely wrongfully convicted.