Rebecca Stewart: 513-479-3335


40% of Wrongful Convictions Involve Police Investigative Misconduct with Black Male Defendants

WASHINGTON / February 22, 2021 – A review of recent wrongful convictions reveals 40.3% involved investigative misconduct by police officers that was directed against Black male defendants. The analysis is based on publicly available data compiled by the National Registry of Exonerations for the years 2018 to 2020 (1).

Following are the year-by-year numbers:

  • 2018: 39.5% (2)
  • 2019: 37.5% (3)
  • 2020: 43.3% (4)

The wrongful convictions arose from five types of police investigative misconduct: misconduct in interrogations, witness tampering, making false statements at trial, or concealment/ fabrication of evidence, according to the NRE report, “Government Misconduct and Convicting the Innocent” (5).

A recent article in the New York Times recounts how investigators used unethical methods to coerce a false confession from Huwe Burton. After Burton’s mother had been fatally stabbed, the 16-year-old Black boy was subjected to a lengthy interrogation. “Two hours into the roughly six-hour interrogation, Detective Viggiano started to bluff the teenager, pretending there was evidence that he was the killer,” the NYT article reports (6).

In 1991, Huwe Burton was convicted of murder and received a 15-year-to-life sentence. He was exonerated in 2019 (7). Last October, Burton’s lawyers filed a lawsuit against the New York Police Department, demanding unspecified punitive and compensatory damages (8).

Ethics codes admonish police officers to conduct investigations that are impartial, fair, and honest (9).  The IACP Law Enforcement Code of Ethics states, for example, “As a law enforcement officer, my fundamental duty is to serve the community; to safeguard lives and property; to protect the innocent against deception, the weak against oppression or intimidation and the peaceful against violence or disorder; and to respect the constitutional rights of all to liberty, equality, and justice.” (emphasis added) (10)

The Center for Prosecutor Integrity calls on police departments and sheriffs’ offices to assure policies and training programs reflect the need for investigative impartiality and fairness.


  2. 68 Black male exonerees harmed by police misconduct divided by 172 total exonerations = 39.5%
  3. 59 Black male exonerees harmed by police misconduct divided by 152 total exonerations = 38.8%
  4. 52 Black male exonerees harmed by police misconduct divided by 120 total exonerations = 43.3%