David J. Celuch
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The link between race and wrongful convictions

A mistake in the crime investigation process can lead to serious consequences for a defendant, especially in Oregon where capital punishment is legal. An error can result in a conviction that steals decades away from an innocent person, if not worse. Not all wrongful convictions are due to errors. Some result from racial bias and discrimination.

Proof is in the numbers

African American defendants are wrongfully convicted at much higher rates than white defendants. The problem is clearly shown in statistics by the National Registry of Exonerations. While African Americans make up only 13 percent of the U.S. population, they make up almost half of all exonerations, as of October 2016.

An exoneration happens when the conviction for a crime is reversed, freeing the defendant. Innocent people in prison can seek exoneration, but they must prove that a flaw or deceitful action lead to their sentencing result.

African Americans are over-represented in exonerations for crimes such as murder, robbery and drug crimes. According to data by the National Registry of Exonerations, African American prisoners convicted of murder are 50 percent more likely to have been mistakenly imprisoned than people of other races. While many factors play into high murder conviction rates in the black community, racial discrimination is certainly one reason why so many more African Americans are wrongfully convicted and why black defendants spend so long in prison before being exonerated.

Law enforcement official misconduct

A clear majority of wrongful convictions for murder involve official misconduct. As mentioned in a previous blog post, some law enforcement officials have influenced wrongful confessions, paid informants for unreliable evidence, lied to jurors and manipulated witness identification to convict innocent people.

In murder cases, the most common types of official misconduct occur as concealing evidence, witness tampering and lying in court. Official misconduct was involved in 87 percent of black capital punishment exonerees’ cases versus 67 percent of white death penalty exonerees. In reality, these numbers may be much higher. These are only the cases of misconduct that have been uncovered. While a small number of convicted people are freed through exoneration, many more are left wondering how to prove their innocence. Innocent prisoners can seek avenues to freedom through post-conviction relief.

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Portland, OR 97201

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