Category Archives: Race

Blacks must wait longer to be exonerated, study shows

From The Huffington Post:

By Michael McLaughlin

It took 18 years for DNA evidence to surface that cleared Derrick Williams of a rape and attempted kidnapping in Florida. Prosecutors had relied on the testimony of the victim, who identified Williams as her attacker in 1992. But he walked free at age 48 in 2011 because his DNA didn’t match that left on a gray T-shirt by the actual perpetrator.

The truth might have surfaced sooner if Williams were white or Latino instead of African-American.

There’s no way to know for sure, of course, but data about wrongful convictions show that blacks who are exonerated after a bogus conviction have served 12.68 years on average before the good news, according to Pamela Perez, professor of biostatistics at Loma Linda University. It takes just 9.4 years for whites and 7.87 for Latinos.

“Black Americans are exonerated at a substantially slower rate than any other race,” said a new report from Perez, shown exclusively to The Huffington Post.

There’s enough of a pattern that the differences between racial groups cannot be called random, Perez said. But there isn’t enough information to explain what caused the differences.

“All we can do is infer,” Perez told HuffPost. “You can’t prove a darn thing.”

She discovered the different timespans by examining 1,450 exonerations listed on theNational Registry of Exonerations through Oct. 20, 2014. Perez conducted the research for Safer-America.com, a consumer research group.

The findings are based on what is probably only a fraction of all exonerations. There are likely cases that didn’t make it onto the national registry, and there are almost certainly more wrongly convicted people still waiting to clear their names.

The registry didn’t collaborate with Perez, but one of its researchers reviewed Perez’s work at HuffPost’s request and approved of her methodology.

“I’m not surprised by the numbers,” said Sam Gross, the exoneration registry’s editor and a University of Michigan law professor. “The main thing we can say is that it’s very hard to know what it means.”

Perez, Gross and others cautioned against jumping to conclusions about the findings. Without further research, they said, no one knows if the results were caused by a biased criminal justice system or other factors.

The Innocence Project looked at a smaller set of 212 cases in which DNA proof freed their clients. (The national registry includes exonerations due to other contributing factors like false confessions and perjury.) The project found a similar racial disparity, with black inmates serving 14.3 years before being exonerated compared to 12.2 years for all other racial groups.

“These two numbers are statistically different, suggesting that the difference between them isn’t due to chance,” Innocence Project research analyst Vanessa Meterko told HuffPost. “It’s notable, but it’s hard to say what the difference is.”

Friday’s Quick Clicks…

  • Quattrone Center press release:  Montgomery County (PA) District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman was joined today by the Quattrone Center for the Fair Administration of Justice at the University of Pennsylvania School of Law to announce the implementation of key changes in the organizational structure of her office to ensure the highest professional standards, integrity, and quality control in the county’s criminal justice system. The changes are being implemented at the conclusion of a root cause analysis conducted in partnership with the Quattrone Center.  Keep reading….
  • Editorial by Lawrence Hellman, director of Oklahoma Innocence Project, with case update and discussion of Conviction Integrity Units
  • Aboriginal chiefs in British Columbia finally exonerated after being executed 150 years ago
  • “An eye for an eye” is the top reason cited by Americans who support the death penalty
  • Hearing set for November 10th for Alaska Innocence Project’s Fairbanks Four case

Monday’s Quick Clicks…

New research shows how race influences decisions in Manhattan DA Office

A new research study shows that prosecutors in Manhattan’s DA office treat blacks and Latinos more harshly than they do whites or Asians. Read more here.

Research documents are found here.

The research summary states on p. 3 (here):

“1. Blacks and Latinos charged with misdemeanor drug offenses were more likely to have their cases dismissed.
2. Blacks and Latinos charged with misdemeanor person offenses or misdemeanor drug offenses were more likely to be detained at arraignment.
3. Blacks and Latinos charged with drug offenses were more likely to receive more punitive plea offers and custodial sentences.
4. Asian defendants had the most favorable outcomes across all discretionary points, as they were less likely to be detained, receive custodial offers, and be incarcerated. Asian defendants received particularly favorable outcomes for misdemeanor property offenses (such as larceny and criminal trespass).”

Friday’s Quick Clicks…

Black Defendants Still Majority of Wrongfully Convicted…

From Blackvoicenews.com:

By Freddie Allen
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – When a Baltimore grocery store employee fingered 26-year-old Michael Austin for the murder of a security guard in the spring of 1974, Austin didn’t even match the police sketch. The wanted suspect was less 6 feet tall and Austin was the size of a small forward in the NBA. The only other evidence linking him to the crime was a business card with the name of an alleged accomplice, a man who was never found.

The store owner, who was positive Austin wasn’t the shooter, was never called to testify during the original trial and Austin’s defense attorney never called a single witness to back up Austin’s alibi that he was at work across town when the crimes were committed. A year later, Austin was convicted of first-degree murder and robbery and sentenced to life in prison on the eyewitness account of the grocery store employee, a college student, according to the prosecution, and a drug addict and high school dropout.

Austin spent half of his life behind bars for a crime he didn’t commit, only gaining freedom through a New Jersey-based lawyers’ group that works to free the wrongfully convicted. The grocery store employee died of an overdose in 1997, but not before he told family members that he lied about what he saw during the murder and sent an innocent man to prison. In December 2001, Austin was granted his freedom. Three years later, Austin won a $1.4 million settlement from the state of Maryland.

Michael Austin’s story was chronicled in The National Registry of Exonerations, a collaborative effort between the University of Michigan law school at Ann Arbor and the Center on Wrongful Convictions at the School of Law at Northwestern University in Chicago. An updated registry of features stories of the wrongfully convicted and was recently released.

According to the report, Blacks account for nearly half (47 percent) of all known exonerees in 1989, and Whites made up nearly 39 percent of all known exonerees. When the updated exoneration report was released in April, 57 percent of the known cases that occurred in 2012 involved Blacks.

Samuel Gross, a law professor at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor and the editor of The National Registry of Exonerations said the 10 percent increase for Blacks was striking, but it’s too early to draw any firm conclusions. Gross said that he continues to learn about new cases that occurred in 2012. In last year’s report released in June 2012, the registry found that 50 percent of the all known exonerees were Black.

“It’s striking and if it stands up and it repeats in another year or two it will be an important trend,” said Gross.

According to the registry report, 52 percent of the wrongful conviction cases involved perjury or false accusation, 43 percent involved official misconduct and 41 percent involved mistaken eyewitness identification.

The majority (57 percent) of all known exonerations were in homicide cases and 47 percent of those cases involved Black defendants and 37 percent involved Whites. Blacks accounted for 63 percent and Whites 18 percent of those wrongfully convicted of committed robberies.

“Homicide and robbery, sadly to say, are crimes that African Americans are heavily overrepresented in the prison population,” said Gross.

The report found that “African Americans constitute 25% of prisoners incarcerated for rape, but 62% of those exonerated for such crimes.”

Faulty eyewitness identification continues to drive the high rate of Blacks involved in adult sexual assault exoneration cases. Gross said that this is likely because of problems associated with cross-racial identification.

“White people don’t have the type of experience living with and distinguishing members of other races as minorities do,” said Gross. “There is also a long terrible history of racial discrimination in the prosecution of African Americans for rape when they are accused of raping White women and that may be a factor here, too.”

According to the National Registry of Exonerations, a majority of the cases (52 percent) involve witness making a false accusation or committing perjury. Forty-one percent of the cases involve faulty eyewitness identification.

“As a group, the defendants had spent nearly 11,000 years in prison for crimes for which they should not have been convicted – an average of more than 10 years each,” stated a report by The National Registry of Exonerations released in April.

These are often the most productive years of a person’s life and the reason why many criminal justice advocates say that seeking compensation for wrongful convictions is the only chance that exonerees have in regaining a foothold in a world that is often much different than how they left it.

“Unfortunately, many of our clients have been in jail for decades and often these were the best years of their life; the years where you can go to school and get an education, years where you can build a career and learn how to do a job,” said Paul Cates, communications director for the Innocence Project. “When they get out after 15 or 20 or 25 years, it’s very difficult to enter the job market without an education and without any marginal skills.”

Cates said that, when the government confines someone for those lengths of time, they definitely deserve to be compensated. Cates added: “It’s particularly true when you consider that they have no way of making a living once they’ve been released.”

Despite the proliferation of crime shows depicting the use of DNA in solving murders and proving innocence or guilt of a suspect, DNA testing is becoming less of a factor in wrongful conviction cases, because it is often initiated before cases go to trial.

“DNA evidence can be very persuasive to courts and to judges and to prosecutors, because it’s a very definitive proof of innocence,” said Cates. “But in all these other cases where this evidence is not available, it’s really hard to prove when someone has been wrongfully convicted and the court system doesn’t make that easy.”

That could be changing. According to the registry report, for the first time, law enforcement officials cooperated in the majority of the known cases that freed the wrongfully convicted in 2012.

Revisions to state policies involving post-conviction DNA testing, greater oversight of convictions in prosecutorial offices, and the evolution of law enforcement practices could have contributed to the increase, according to the study.

“It’s pretty clear that we make mistakes as you would expect from any human system and we should acknowledge that and that’s becoming more widely understood and accepted,” said Gross. “The more realistic we are in understanding that we do mistakes the better we’ll be at identifying them and preventing them.”

 

Bill proposed to clear way for pardon of Scottsboro Boys

From Mike Cason at al.com

MONTGOMERY, Alabama — Some Alabama lawmakers, attorneys and others say it’s time for Alabama to officially pardon the Scottsboro Boys, nine African-American youths convicted of raping two white women in a case that became a landmark example of racial injustice.

Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, joined other legislators, civil rights attorney Fred Gray Sr., and others to announce a bill today that would establish procedures to allow the pardons. Legislation is needed because state law does not allow posthumous pardons.

“It is never too late to right a wrong, never, ever too late,” Birmingham defense attorney Richard Jaffe said. “And in fact, by not righting this wrong, we would be making a huge mistake because the stigma that attached to Alabama and its legal system was beyond measure and to some extent it still exists. And it was international.”

“To me, this case was nothing more than a real life “To Kill a Mockingbird” times nine.”

On March 25, 1931, the nine youths were riding a freight train through north Alabama when a deputized posse stopped the train at Paint Rock. The posse was investigating a fight between black and white passengers and questioned two women aboard the train, who eventually claimed they were raped by the men.

All nine of the youths were convicted by an all-white jury after a brief trial.

One of the women later said they had concocted the rape story to avoid charges for vagrancy.

The state pardoned one of the nine, Clarence Norris, in 1976. Norris was the only one of the nine known to be alive at the time.

Richard Cohen, president of the Southern Poverty Law Center, said the Scottsboro Boys case twice went to the U.S. Supreme Court and set important precedents.

“Those two cases are in many ways a monument to the injustice the state of Alabama inflicted on the Scottsboro Boys,” Cohen said today. “The first case said that the state had an obligation to provide effective assistance of counsel to criminal defendants. The second case said that juries had to be chosen in a manner that was free of racial bias.”

Cohen said exoneration of the Scottsboro Boys was “incredibly important,” but added that it was also important to ensure that the principles set by the case are followed.

“Today, are criminal defendants always provided with effective assistance of counsel? Today, are our juries chosen free of racial discrimination? Until we can answer yes to both of those questions, the shadow of the Scottsboro Boys will continue to linger.”