False Convictions Largely Driven By Racism, New Report Says

‘Black people are far more likely than white people to be convicted of crimes they did not commit,’ research found.

Innocent Black Americans are seven times more likely than White Americans to be falsely convicted of serious crimes, according to a new study published Tuesday (Sept. 27) by the National Registry of Exonerations, shining a spotlight on a pattern of pervasive racism in the criminal justice system.

“Race is central to every aspect of criminal justice in the United States,” the researchers wrote. “The conviction of innocent defendants is no exception. Thousands of exonerations across dozens of years demonstrate that Black people are far more likely than white people to be convicted of crimes they did not commit.”

Race and Wrongful Convictions in the United States 2022” is a joint project of the University of California, Irvine, the University of Michigan Law School and Michigan State University College of Law. It tracks all known wrongful convictions in the United States since 1989 and analyzes the role of race in the conviction of innocent people.

Although Blacks comprise roughly 13 percent of the U.S. population, they represent 53 percent of the more than 3,200 exonerations since 1989.

“We see this racial disparity, in varying degrees, for all major crime categories except white collar crime,” the researchers said.

RELATED: Exonerated Black Man Files Lawsuit Against Philadelphia, Former DA After Sitting On Death Row

RELATED: Judge Exonerates Black Man Accused Of Rape Depicted in Memoir of Author Alice Sebold

They examined racial disparities in the three categories of crime that produce the highest number of exonerations: murder, sexual assault, and drug crimes.

According to the report, innocent Black people are 7.5 times more likely to be convicted of murder than innocent white people. That’s partly blamed on the high homicide rate in Black communities. At the same time, police misconduct is 50 percent more likely involved in the conviction of innocent Black people compared to innocent white people.

Innocent Black people are almost eight times more likely than White people to be falsely convicted of rape. Misidentification of Black men by White victims is the primary cause of the racial disparity. DNA testing has reduced the misidentification problem over the past decade.

Still, Black men sexually assaulting White women comprise a “a small minority” of cases but nearly half of the misidentifications that led to exonerations.

“A substantial number of the convictions that led to rape exonerations of Black defendants were marred by implicit biases, racially tainted official misconduct and, in some cases, explicit racism,” according to the report.

Even though Black and White Americans use illegal drugs at similar rates, innocent Black people are 19 times more likely than whites to be convicted of drug crimes, the researchers found. Racial profiling by the police is a significant factor in that disparity.

“We also know of dozens of groups of innocent defendants who were deliberately framed by police officers who planted drugs on them,” the report stated. “Almost all are Black people or other racial or ethnic minorities.”

From 1989 to October 2016, there were 1,900 known exonerations when the Registry released its first report in 2017. The number of exonerated innocent people skyrocketed to 3,200 by Aug. 8, 2022 who served an average of 12 years in prison. A running list of cases is available online.

Latest News

Subscribe for BET Updates

Provide your email address to receive our newsletter.

By clicking Subscribe, you confirm that you have read and agree to our Terms of Use and acknowledge our Privacy Policy. You also agree to receive marketing communications, updates, special offers (including partner offers) and other information from BET and the Paramount family of companies. You understand that you can unsubscribe at any time.