#15 – Black Americans Seven Times More Likely Than Whites to Be Wrongfully Convicted of Serious Crimes

by Shealeigh

As reported by the Innocence Project, Reuters, and Essence, a September 2022 National Registry of Exonerations study found that Black people are seven times more likely than White people to be wrongfully convicted of murder, sexual crimes, and drug crimes.

The NRE study analyzed 3,200 exonerations for the above crimes, dating back to 1989. Fifty-three percent of those exonerated were Black, even though Black Americans make up only 13.6 percent of the general population. Only 33 percent of those exonerated were White. Black Americans were 7.5 times more likely than Whites to be wrongly convicted of murder, eight times more likely to be wrongly convicted of sexual crimes, and nineteen times more likely to be wrongly convicted of drug crimes, the Innocence Project reported.

The enormous disparity in wrongful convictions for drug crimes can be explained, in part, by the implicit racial bias of police officers. Police officers investigating drug crimes have broad discretion about whom to search, interrogate, and arrest. In most cases, officers are more likely to identify Black people as suspects. Additionally, the disparity in wrongful rape convictions can often be blamed on White people’s misidentification of Black men. Melissa Noel’s article for Essence quoted from the National Registry of Exonerations report: “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.”

Unfortunately, this systematic disparity has grown slightly in recent years. In 2017, the National Registry of Exonerations published a similar report which found Black Americans were seven times more likely than White Americans to be wrongfully convicted of murder, a number that has since grown to 7.5 times more likely.

These findings have received minimal corporate media coverage. Christina Swarns, executive director of the Innocence Project, wrote an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times on the National Registry report. An article published by ABC News in March 2023 also referenced statistics from the study.

“New Report Highlights Persistent Racial Disparities Among Wrongful Convictions,” Innocence Project, September 27, 2022.

Hassan Kanu, “Rising Number of False Convictions Shows Stark Racial Patterns,” Reuters, September 27, 2022.

Melissa Noel, “Study: Black Americans More Likely To Be Wrongfully Convicted,” Essence, September 29, 2022.

Student Researcher: Annie Koruga (Ohlone College)

Faculty Evaluator: Mickey Huff (Diablo Valley College)