Study finds Harris County leads nation in exonerations

Innocent black people are seven times more likely to be wrongly convicted of murder than white defendants

The registry's study on race and wrongful convictions found that based on known exonerations, innocent black people are seven times more likely to be convicted of murder - for example - than innocent white people.

The majority of the 2,000 people in the United States formally exonerated of crimes they never committed are black, according to a new report examining the relationship between race and wrongful convictions.

"A major cause of the high number of black murder exonerations is the high homicide rate in the black community - a tragedy that kills many African Americans and sends many others to prison", says the report, written by Samuel R. Gross, a University of MI law professor, and registry researchers Maurice Possley and Klara Stephens.

Using information on exonerations going back to 1989, the latest report also shows that black people continue to be more likely to be wrongly convicted in America than people of other races.

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In terms of murder cases, the numbers are astonishing.

"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", Gross said, as quoted by Reuters. The bulk of the racial disparities in sexual assault convictions can be explained by white victims who mistakenly identify black assailants, said Gross, particularly when the victim is a white woman and the offender a black man. The major factor for the disparity appears to be mistaken eyewitness identification by white victims.

While African Americans make up about 13 percent of the US population, half of all defendants exonerated for murder are black ― a rate seven times that for innocent whites.

Numerous convictions of African-American murder exonerees were affected by a wide range of types of racial discrimination, from unconscious bias and institutional discrimination to explicit racism.

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Most of the Texas exonerations were drug convictions in Harris County, which includes Houston. Innocent black people are 12 times as likely to be convicted of a drug crime as innocent white people.

"Assaults on white women by African-American men are a small minority of all sexual assaults in the United States, but they constitute half of sexual assaults with eyewitness misidentifications that led to exoneration". "Of the many costs that the War on Drugs inflicts on the black community, the practice of deliberately charging innocent defendants with fabricated crimes may be the most shameful". They constitute 47 percent of the 1,900 exonerations listed in the National Registry of Exonerations.

And when the supposed drugs they possessed were tested, in many cases no illegal drugs were found.

Since 1989, more than 1,800 defendants have been cleared in "group exonerations" that followed 15 large-scale police scandals in which officers systematically framed innocent defendants. The great majority were African-American defendants who were framed for drug crimes that never occurred. Three police officers in East Cleveland pleaded guilty to federal crimes amid accusations of planting drugs and stealing cash from dozens of suspected drug dealers, all black. Exonerations provide a window into the scope."About 40 percent of the exonerations previous year were the result of official misconducted, according to the annual report by the National Registry of Exonerations". Increasingly, police, prosecutors and judges recognize this problem. The year before, Alabama had one exoneration, the group reported.

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There now are about 2,900 people on death rows around the country, of whom; under that formula, about 120 are likely to have been wrongfully convicted.

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