Thousands of people in New York and around the country are sent to prison each year for crimes they didn’t commit. A worryingly large number of these cases involve police officers who falsify or tamper with evidence or pressure innocent suspects into confessing during coercive interviews. This was the conclusion researchers from the National Registry of Exonerations reached after studying the cases of 2,400 individuals who were wrongly convicted between 1989 and 2019.
Police and prosecutorial misconduct
The researchers found police misconduct in more than a third of the cases they studied, and they discovered that more than 50% of the wrongfully convicted defendants were the victims of both police and prosecutorial misconduct. The academics behind the study were quick to point out that these findings provide far less than a complete picture because most wrongful convictions never come to light. However, the available figures reveal that Black defendants are treated particularly unfairly by the criminal justice system.
Researchers discovered evidence of police or prosecutorial misconduct in 64% of the cases involving white defendants, but this figure rose to 78% when cases involving wrongly convicted black defendants were studied. Evidence of racial bias was even more clear in capital cases. Almost nine in 10 of the innocent black defendants sentenced to death were the victims of some sort of misconduct, but misconduct was a factor in only 68% of the capital cases involving white defendants.
Wrongly convicted individuals often feel that the system is against them and their chances of obtaining justice are slim, but this is not always the case. Attorneys with experience in cases involving civil rights violations could look for evidence of misconduct by studying police reports and court papers. Depending on the situation, they could seek to have a wrongful conviction overturned.