What Can DNA Exonerations Tell Us About Racial Differences in Wrongful-Conviction Rates?

Published in: The Journal of Law and Economics, Volume 63, Number 2, pages 341–366 (May 2020). doi: 10.1086/707080

Posted on RAND.org on December 11, 2020

by David D B Bjerk, Eric Helland

We show that data on DNA exonerations can be informative about racial differences in wrongful-conviction rates under some assumptions regarding the DNA-exoneration process. We argue that, with respect to rape cases, the observed data and the plausibility of the required assumptions combine to strongly suggest that the wrongful-conviction rate is significantly higher among black convicts than white convicts. By contrast, we argue that the ability of data on DNA exonerations to reveal information about racial differences in wrongful-conviction rates for murder is much more limited.

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