Wrongful Convictions Overturned

An overwhelming number of cases of wrongfully convicted minors involve youths of color.

“Thirty-four of the 329 DNA-based exonerees were arrested as minors. Thirty-two out of that 34 are people of color; specifically, 30 of them are black,” the Innocence Project reported.

Wrongful conviction experts Sam Gross and Joshua Tepfer conducted a study to determine why youths of color are drastically overrepresented in these cases, and three key overlapping patterns emerged.

1. At least 75 percent of exonerees of color, who were minors at the time of their arrests, were falsely implicated by other children.

“Seventeen-year-old Ethel Furmage, a ‘confidential informant,’ told police that she’d heard rumors that 15-year-old Leon Brown had committed a 1983 rape and murder of a local girl. She also told them that Henry McCollum, then 19, acted strange. McCollum and Brown, half-brothers, were arrested based on Furmage’s information. The brothers falsely confessed and were tried and convicted, serving 30 years before they were finally exonerated in 2014 based on DNA testing,” the project cited.

2. Wrongfully convicted youth of color were often accused of committing crimes in large groups.

“According to Department of Justice data, juveniles of color are believed to offend heavily in groups, as approximately 40 percent of all juvenile criminal activity involves a group of juvenile offenders,” the project reported.

3. False confessions and guilt admissions make up 84 percent of the cases of exonerees of color who were arrested as juveniles.

According to the project, “Many of the exonerees of color, who were convicted when they were minors, confessed after particularly long interrogations – sometimes between 10 and 30 hours – lasting over several days without family and legal guidance.”

“Until we address the breakdown in the criminal justice system that disproportionately targets and convicts people of color, and any continuing underlying bias, innocent people – especially black youth – will continue to pay the heavy burden in disproportionate numbers of wrongful convictions,” stated Edwin Grimsely, Innocence Project case analyst.

– John Lam

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