The New Jim Crow – And Exoneration

The common depiction of Justice with a blindfold wasn’t meant as a cover for willful blindness to innocence. To date, 873 people convicted of crimes in our “Justice” system, and in at least one provable case executed have been exonerated. They just didn’t do the crime they were convicted of doing. Some interesting statistics about that -

50 Percent of Those Exonerated in National Registry are Black

The University of the Michigan Law School and the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law have partnered to launch a National Registry of Exonerations that keeps an up to date list of all known exonerations in the United States since 1989. The group’s inaugural report released this week reveals 50 percent of false convictions are of black defendants.

The National Registry of Exoneration documents include 891 exonerations with summaries of the cases and searchable data on each. Their latest report focuses on the 873 exonerations that were entered in the Registry as of March 1, 2012.

Below are key findings from the Center’s study of the 873 exonerated defendants as printed in the report:

  • 93% are men, 7% women;
  • 50% are black, 38% white, 11% Hispanic and 2% Native American or Asian;
  • 37% were exonerated with the help of DNA evidence; 63% without DNA; as a group, they spent more than 10,000 years in prison – an average of more than 11 years each.
  • Since 2000, exonerations have averaged 52 a year – one a week – 40% of which include DNA evidence.
  • The 873 exonerations are mostly rape and murder cases, but the data also include
    many more exonerations for other crimes than previously known.

For all exonerations, the most common causal factors that contributed to the underlying false convictions are perjury or false accusation (51%), mistaken eyewitness identification (43%) and official misconduct (42%) – followed by false or misleading forensic evidence (24%) and false confession (16%).

Of course, 873 is only a small portion of the convictions for crime we see in any year – much less over 30 years. And the fact that 50% of the folks who were exonerated in a system where 50% of the convicted are black, doesn’t necessarily prove racial bias when considered on its own. The vast majority of criminal convictions in the US are for minor drug offenses with major incarceration times. Those are not disprovable by DNA.

What it does mean is, considering the shoestring budget of groups seeking Justice meaning that only the most egregious cases of injustice are pursued, and the fact that States throw the legal kitchen sink at the legal teams seeking exoneration in order to avoid the exoneration and likely cost of a lawsuit for wrongful conviction… The number of wrongful convictions is probably much, much, much higher.

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