Examining Racial Disparity in Exonerations
National Registry of Exonerations
Mar 7, 2017

“There is no single explanation” for the racial disparity in exonerations, according to a recent report by the National Registry of Exonerations, covered by CNN. African Americans constituted 47% of the 1,900 exonerations listed in the National Registry of Exonerations and were the great majority of more than 1,800 people exonerated as a group in 15 major police scandals. Samuel R. Gross, Maurice Possley, and Klara Stephens, authors of “Race and Wrongful Convictions in the United States,” identified the sources of disparity for the three most prevalent crimes in the Registry: murder, sexual assault, and drug crimes.

The authors explain that the large number of false black murder convictions stems from the high black murder rate, police and prosecutorial misconduct, and discrimination. In sexual assault cases, misidentification by white victims was the leading cause of the wrongful conviction of African Americans who were exonerated. For drug offenses, the high rate of stops, searches, and arrests among African Americans led to their high number of wrongful convictions. In addition, the authors note, “African Americans are also the main targets in a shocking series of scandals in which police officers systematically framed innocent defendants for drug crimes that never occurred.”

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