Official misconduct contributed to the false criminal convictions of more than half of innocent people who were later exonerated—54 percent—according to a report released Tuesday by the National Registry of Exonerations.
The actions by police officers included witness tampering, violent interrogations, and falsifying evidence.
“As calls to reimagine the nation’s criminal justice system grow, these new data underscore the need for more discipline and professionalism by police and prosecutors,” said a statement from the National Registry.
Researchers studied 2,400 convictions of defendants who were later found innocent over a 30-year period. It is the only such study based on a comprehensive database of cases of wrongly convicted defendants.
Misconduct that leads to wrongful convictions rarely come to light and don’t usually lead to mass protests and a racial reckoning, although they involve the same reliance on secrecy and deception, according to Samuel Gross, a University of Michigan law professor and one of the authors of the study, said USA Today.
Researchers found that misconduct by police and prosecutors is among the leading causes of disproportionate false convictions of Black defendants.
Prosecutors and police officers committed misconduct at comparable rates: prosecutors in 30 percent of exonerations, police in 34 percent, said the National Registry.
However, in federal cases, the study found that misconduct by prosecutors was two-and-a-half times as common as misconduct by police—especially among federal white-collar crime exonerations, where it’s more than seven times as common.
“Official misconduct damages truth-seeking by our criminal justice system and undermines public confidence. It steals years—sometimes decades—from the lives of innocent people. The great majority of wrongful convictions are never discovered, so the scope of the problem is much greater than these numbers show,” said Professor Gross, who is Senior Editor of the National Registry of Exonerations.
The report, “Government Misconduct and Convicting the Innocent: the Role of Prosecutors, Police and Other Law Enforcement,” can be read here.