The vast majority of the wrongfully convicted who are exonerated through DNA evidence are people of color. The numbers don't lie.
At a time when the killing of innocent black men by police is causing many to question the fundamentals of America's criminal justice system, we are reminded that black lives matter. However, we should also remember that the same flawed system that allows for the fatal shooting of Michael Brown or the choking death of Eric Garner also places innocent people behind bars and sends them to death row.
The Innocence Project and the NAACP have partnered to address the problem of wrongful convictions, and prevent them from occurring in the first place.
The Innocence Project has compiled data on the 324 people who have been exonerated through DNA evidence in the United States.
Of these wrongfully convicted individuals, 70 percent are people of color, and 63 percent are African-American. They spent an average of 13.5 years in prison, collectively a total of over 4,339 years. And 6 percent received a death sentence.
In 43 percent of the cases for which data are available, the underlying crimes involved cross-racial identification, where the witness--such as the victim--and the suspect are of different races. Eyewitness misidentification was a factor in about three-quarters of these exoneration cases, and studies have demonstrated that people are less able to identify people of a different race.
Believe it or not, in 31 percent of the wrongful convictions leading to DNA exonerations, the wrongfully convicted person confessed, admitted guilt and/or pled guilty. Jailhouse snitches and informants--an unreliable source of information, as the testimony typically is provided in exchange for leniency or some other type of deal-- had a hand in 15 percent of these convictions, while improper or unvalidated forensic science was used 48 percent of the time.
Henry Lee McCollum, 50, and Leon Brown, 46, are prime examples of the problem here. The half- brothers, both intellectually disabled, confessed to the rape and murder of an 11-year old girl in North Carolina in 1984. McCollum spent 30 years on death row, and Brown was serving life after his conviction was thrown out. The North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission found that DNA at the crime scene belonged to another man, Roscoe Artis, who was sentenced to death for a similar crime. In half of cases involving DNA exonerations, the real perpetrator is identified. Moreover, in half of cases, the real perpetrator went on to commit other crimes after the exoneree was arrested and convicted. McCollum and Brown became free men this year.
Meanwhile, based on these troubling statistics, the NAACP adopted a resolution at its national convention in July, 2014 and ratified in October, to prevent wrongful convictions by improving access to DNA testing and accuracy in eyewitness interrogation techniques. The civil rights organization now advocates for states to "adopt core procedural reforms to improve the accuracy of eyewitness identification including blind administration of lineups, proper composition of lineups, proper instructions to the witness and taking statements in the witness' own words at the time of the identification." Further, the NAACP wants all states to electronically record all felony-related interrogations in their entirety, and remove all restrictions to post-conviction DNA testing. As for the federal government, the group advocates for the promotion of forensic science research and scientifically developed, uniform standards to ensure the scientific evidence is valid and so that true justice will be served.
As the unsavory and problematic aspects of America's "justice" system come to light--wrongful convictions, police and prosecutorial misconduct, racial injustice, sloppy lawyering and the like--two things are clear. First, communities of color do not trust the justice system because its institutions continue to betray, humiliate and brutalize them, and cripple their families and communities.
Second, white Americans--who have a markedly different perception of a system that generally has worked in their favor--believe the police treat everyone fairly. A recent NBC/Marist poll found that whites are four times more likely as blacks to trust the police, and believe law enforcement will treat blacks and whites equally. Further, while 21 percent of whites have more confidence in the legal system following the grand jury decisions not to indict police officers for killing black men in Ferguson, Missouri and Staten Island, New York, 70 percent of African Americans have lower confidence in the courts.
The wrongful convictions data coming from the Innocence Project provide all the proof we need that all things are not equal in the application of American justice. Justice is color coded, and truly a matter of black and white. Now is the time to change that.
Follow David A. Love on Twitter: www.twitter.com/davidalove
Problems That Led to the Wrongful Conviction of David Milgaard
1963 Words8 Pages
How to appropriately and fairly carry out criminal justice matters is something that every country struggles with. A major reason for this struggle is the fallibility of the justice system. It is acceptable to concede that the possibility of human error in every case and investigation may lead to a wrongful conviction. In the case of David Milgaard, however, Canada's Criminal Justice System not only erred, but failed grievously, resulting in millions of dollars wasted, in a loss of public confidence in the system, and most tragically, in the robbery of two decades of one man's life. Factors including, but not limited to, the social context at the time of the crime, the social perception of deviance, the influence of the media, and the…show more content…
As a result of these moral panics, it is extremely safe to label such individuals as those engaging in criminal activity.
Labeling played an important role in the initial arrest of David Milgaard. Police officers, as members of society, often use character discrimination in identifying suspects. Unfortunately, the police likely began the investigation with a particular image of the suspect in mind, an image established by the elite members of society whom essentially determine what a deviant is. Regrettably, David Milgaard happened to fit the mold. The stigma that Milgaard would carry for next twenty-seven years of his life would be that of a rapist and murderer. The issue with labeling is that Milgaard felt no one would ever look at him in any other way than as a criminal. This was affirmed by the rejection of his final appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada. As a result, Milgaard attempted numerous times to escape prison and commit suicide; he felt as though society had given up on him. Ironically, his escape from prison was his only actual criminal act, but it led to an even greater public perception of his criminality. Even upon his release in April of 1992, he was not formally acquitted. (CBC/radio Canada) It was no until July, 1997, upon the discovery of new DNA evidence that cleared Milgaard's name, that he received an apology from the Saskatchewan government for his wrongful conviction and the label was removed (CBC/radio Canada). It was not until