Martin & Kent, L.L.C. Martin & Kent, L.L.C.

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Exoneration study highlights bias against African-Americans

African-Americans in Illinois and around the country are far more likely to be treated unfairly by the criminal justice system according to a recent study from the National Registry of Exonerations. The report examined the cases of 1,900 exonerated prisoners who had been convicted wrongfully between 1989 and 2016, and it found that almost half of them were black.

Previous research has suggested that African-Americans are more likely to be arrested than Caucasians and often receive harsher sentences, but the NRE study indicates that racial bias also significantly increases the chances of a wrongful conviction. Exoneration data reveals that innocent African-American defendants are seven times more likely than whites to be wrongfully convicted of murder and 12 times more liable to be sent to prison for drug offenses they did not commit.

A separate NRE study reveals that 166 prisoners were exonerated in 2016, and more than a third of the inmates set free had been convicted in Texas. Prosecutors in jurisdictions including Houston and Dallas took action by setting up special units to investigate allegations of misconduct and racial bias, and these efforts revealed serious issues with drug cases in Harris County. Investigators learned that suspects had been encouraged to plead guilty to drug charges after being told that seized materials had been identified as illegal substances in forensic tests. However, subsequent tests revealed that the substances were not illicit.

Experienced criminal defense attorneys may call upon independent scientific experts when the results of police forensic tests are at odds with what their clients have told them. The results of these tests can be deliberately skewed by misconduct or bias or samples can become contaminated or mixed up. In addition to scrutinizing police reports and forensic evidence in situations where racial bias could be a factor, attorneys may urge prosecutors to consider mitigating factors and show leniency.

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