Data shows African Americans are more likely to be wrongfully convicted


New report by the National Registry of Exonerations

African Americans are more likely to be wrongfully convicted of murder, rape and drug crimes than white people, and those who are exonerated spend more time in prison before they are released, according to a recent report by the National Registry of Exonerations. 

The Registry relocated its institutional home to UCI’s Newkirk Center for Science & Society last fall.

African Americans convicted of murder are about 50 percent more likely to be innocent than others convicted of murder, according to the report, titled Race and Wrongful Convictions in the United States. In murder exoneration cases, black defendants were also likelier than white defendants to face police misconduct. Before being released, black murder exonerees waited an average of three years longer in prison than white exonerees.

The report analyzes exonerations for murder, sexual assault, and drug crimes since 1989. Exoneration data indicate that an African American prisoner serving time for sexual assault is three and a half times more likely to be innocent than a white person convicted of sexual assault. Innocent African Americans wrongly convicted of sexual assault spent an average of almost four and a half years longer in prison before exoneration than innocent whites.

Innocent black people are about 12 times more likely to be convicted of drug crimes than innocent white people. Since 1989, more than 1,800 defendants have been cleared in group exonerations that followed 15 large-scale police scandals in which officers systematically framed innocent defendants. The overwhelming majority were African-American defendants framed for drug crimes that never occurred.

The National Registry of Exonerations is the internationally recognized repository of data and research about exonerations of innocent defendants convicted of crimes in the U.S. The Registry is a joint project of the School of Social Ecology’s Newkirk Center for Science & Society, the University of Michigan Law School and Michigan State University College of Law. The Registry contains data on the types of crimes committed, the factors that contributed to defendants’ wrongful convictions and breakdowns of exonerations by state, race, gender and year. It collects, analyzes and disseminates detailed data on every known exoneration since 1989, and relies entirely on public information.

Read Report

- March 2017

Photo by David Grunfeld,