Society

Study: Black Americans More Often Wrongfully Convicted

| by Erik Kindel

A new study published by the University of Michigan law school, titled Race and Wrongful Convictions in the U.S., has revealed empirical evidence suggesting black Americans are more likely to be tried and falsely convicted than white people charged with the same crimes.

When Davontae Sanford was released from prison last year, he joined a group of 52 other people exonerated for murder in 2016. 28 -- more than half of those exonerated -- were black Americans.

Sanford was arrested, tried and convicted for killing four people in a house in his Detroit neighborhood at the age of 14. He was pressured into signing a confession and, despite testing negative for gunshot residue at the time and not matching the descriptions of the real killers given by the witnesses, he was sentenced to 37-90 years.

His release from jail in 2016 was a victory for the young man, now 23, but his exoneration correlated with a troubling trend. For three straight years, America has had a record number of exonerees. 2016 was the highest with 166. It's clear America is improperly imprisoning too many people.

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The U. of M. study examined exoneration from 1989-October 2016, finding a pattern of wrongful convictions over the three decades examined. Black Americans, who make up only 13% of the U.S. population, made up 47% of the exonerees, three times their representation.

And the study doesn't stop there. It claims that, during these thirty years, black people convicted of murder have had a 50% higher chance of being innocent than white people. That suggests black people aren't necessarily more likely to commit crimes -- just more likely to be convicted of crimes.

The study, which was released on Tuesday, also shows black Americans are seven times more likely to be unjustly convicted of murder than white people.

The study doesn't limit itself to cases of violence and murder, it also tackles exonerations for non-violent and drug related offenses.

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It states that innocent black people are 12 times more likely to be wrongfully convicted of drug-related offenses than innocent white people.

It also shows that it takes far longer for black people to have their cases exonerated than white people. On average, it takes three more years for a black person to have their case exonerated for drug or non-violent offenses, while it takes four more years for a murder conviction.

The report also focused more specifically on Harris County, Texas, home to Houston. Of the 166 exonerations in 2016, nearly 60 came from Texas, and the majority came from drug related charges brought against black Americans in Harris County.

In many of those cases, suspects who plead guilty to drug related charges, found out years later that seized material contained no controlled substances.

The disparity can be linked to unconscious bias, institutional discrimination, and explicit racism. But one thing's for sure: America's justice system needs to do better by black people.

Sources: Al Jazeera, NPR / Photo credit: WJBK

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