In America, tragic judicial errors like this are not simply random: African Americans are much more often the victim of such mistakes than whites, and before being cleared they spend more time behind bars, according to a study released Tuesday.
The case of Charles — a native of Trinidad and Tobago who still speaks with a thick Caribbean accent and sports a gold tooth and dreadlocks — is typical of the stereotypes and racial prejudice which, to one degree or another, leads plaintiffs, police, judges or juries to convict black men of crimes of which they are innocent, the study by the National Registry of Exonerations said.
The statistics compiled by the registry speak volumes. Here are some highlights:
– Blacks make up 13% of the US population, but since 1989 they have accounted for 47% of 1,900 cases of exoneration after a judicial error;- Blacks convicted of murder in the United States have a 50% higher likelihood than whites of being innocent;- Blacks who are innocent are 12 times more likely to be unjustly convicted of drug-related offenses than innocent white people;- Blacks who are innocent are seven times more likely to be unjustly convicted of murder than innocent white people.Record number of exonerations
The year 2016 saw a record 166 exonerations after wrongful convictions, 54 of those in homicide cases.
The growing trend can be seen as illustrating a criminal justice system riddled with arbitrary decision-making or as symptomatic of a system that is more and more willing to recognize its mistakes.
Experts agree that what has been studied so far in this area is the tip of an iceberg, the size of which is not known.
The war on drugs, which has caused the prison population to soar over the past few decades, features vast police raids that sometimes draw sharp criticism.
“We know about nearly 1,700 cases in group exonerations that are mostly drug crime frame ups,” said Samuel Gross, the author of the report.
“Most of those defendants are African Americans. We believe that there are many more that we have not found, but we can’t say how many,” he told AFP.
Oddly, many blacks plead guilty to crimes they did not commit: they fear going ahead with a full-blown jury trial and being punished with even more years in prison.
Age 14, wrongly imprisoned
Consider the case of a boy named Davontae Sanford, who lived in Detroit. At age 14, he confessed in 2008 to four killings and an attempted killing. But he was innocent.
He spent eight years in prison, even though just a month after he was convicted, the real murderer — a hit man — confessed to the crimes, produced the gun used in the killings and cleared Sanford’s name.
“On average, black murder exonerees spent three years longer in prison before release than white murder exonerees, and those sentenced to death spent four years longer,” said the report, entitled “Race and Wrongful Convictions in the United States.”
FILE: Davontae Sanford smiles as he walks out of the Bellamy Creek Correctional Facility with one of his lawyers Valerie Newman. AAP
“Many of the convictions of African-American murder exonerees were affected by a wide range of types of racial discrimination, from unconscious bias and institutional discrimination to explicit racism,” the report added.
As for sexual assault, eyewitness misidentification does not completely explain the racial disparity to the detriment of blacks in exonerations for these offenses, it added.
Here, to, some convictions that ended up in exonerations were marred by implicit bias, racially tainted official misconduct and, in some cases, explicit racism, it added.