Systemic Injustice: Why Black & Brown People are More Likely to be Wrongfully Convicted

The issue of wrongful convictions and systemic injustice in the US criminal justice system is a pressing concern that needs to be addressed. Wrongful convictions occur when innocent individuals are found guilty of crimes they did not commit. This can happen due to a variety of factors, including racial disparities, implicit bias, lack of resources for legal defense, flaws in eyewitness identification and testimony, coercive interrogation tactics, plea bargaining and overcharging, and inadequate appellate review and post-conviction relief.
Addressing this issue is of utmost importance because it not only affects the lives of those who are wrongfully convicted, but also undermines the integrity and fairness of the criminal justice system as a whole. When innocent individuals are convicted, the real perpetrators remain free to commit more crimes, while the wrongfully convicted suffer the consequences of a system that failed them. By understanding the various factors that contribute to wrongful convictions, we can work towards creating a more just and equitable system.

Racial Disparities in Wrongful Convictions

One of the most glaring issues in the criminal justice system is the disproportionate number of Black and Brown people who are wrongfully convicted. Statistics show that people of color are more likely to be wrongfully convicted compared to their white counterparts. This racial disparity is deeply troubling and highlights the systemic injustices that exist within the criminal justice system.
There have been numerous high-profile cases that shed light on this issue. For example, the well-publicized case of Kalief Browder, a young Black man who was wrongfully accused of stealing a backpack and spent three years in detention at Rikers Island without ever being convicted. Browder’s case garnered national attention and highlighted the injustices faced by many people of color within the criminal justice system. Many others languish in prisons for decades.
Nonprofit organizations, like The Young Lions, that serve low-income people of color, are in the trenches every day – witnessing damaging racial disparities and advocating tirelessly for their clients. “We have seen families ripped apart by wrongful convictions,” says Dexter Bryant, Young Lions Executive Director. “It is left to the neighborhood to lift those families up and offer them some hope and assistance. It breaks your heart.”

The Role of Implicit Bias in the Criminal Justice System

Implicit bias refers to the unconscious attitudes and stereotypes that individuals hold towards certain groups of people. These biases can influence decision-making in the criminal justice system, leading to wrongful convictions. For example, studies have shown that jurors are more likely to perceive Black defendants as guilty compared to white defendants, even when the evidence is the same.
Implicit bias can also affect the decisions made by law enforcement officers, prosecutors, and judges. This can result in racial profiling, biased investigations, and harsher sentencing for people of color. The implicit bias within the criminal justice system must be addressed in order to ensure fair and unbiased decision-making – and safer communities.

The Impact of Poverty and Lack of Resources on Legal Defense

Poverty and lack of resources can have a huge impact on the quality of legal defense that individuals receive. Many people who are wrongfully convicted come from low-income backgrounds and cannot afford to hire competent defense attorneys. As a result, they may be assigned overworked and under-resourced public defenders who are unable to provide an adequate defense.
Inadequate legal defense can lead to wrongful convictions because defendants may not have access to the necessary resources, such as expert witnesses or forensic testing, to challenge the prosecution’s case. This creates an imbalance of power in the courtroom and undermines the principle of equal justice under the law.

The Flaws in Eyewitness Identification and Testimony

Eyewitness identification and testimony have long been considered one of the most persuasive forms of evidence in criminal trials. However, research has shown that eyewitness identification is not always reliable and can be influenced by various factors, such as stress, cross-racial identification, and suggestive police procedures.
Flaws in eyewitness identification have been a contributing factor in many wrongful convictions. Innocent individuals have been misidentified by witnesses, leading to their wrongful conviction. It is crucial to implement reforms in the criminal justice system to ensure that eyewitness identification procedures are conducted in a fair and unbiased manner.

The Use of Coercive Interrogation Tactics

Coercive interrogation tactics, such as prolonged questioning, sleep deprivation, and physical abuse, can lead to false confessions and wrongful convictions. Innocent individuals may be coerced into confessing to crimes they did not commit due to the psychological and physical pressure exerted during interrogations.
There have been numerous cases where individuals have falsely confessed to crimes they did not commit, only to be exonerated years later through DNA evidence. The use of coercive interrogation tactics not only violates the rights of the accused but also undermines the integrity of the criminal justice system.

The Problem with Plea Bargaining and Overcharging

Plea bargaining is a common practice in the criminal justice system, where defendants agree to plead guilty in exchange for a reduced sentence or lesser charges. While plea bargaining can help expedite the judicial process, it can also lead to wrongful convictions.
In many cases, defendants may feel pressured to accept a plea deal even if they are innocent due to the fear of facing harsher penalties if they go to trial and are found guilty. The unscrupulous practice of overcharging – where prosecutors charge defendants with more serious offenses than warranted by the evidence – can also lead to coerced pleas and wrongful convictions.

The Inadequacy of Appellate Review and Post-Conviction Relief

The appellate review and post-conviction relief process is meant to correct errors made during the trial and ensure that justice is served. However, this process can be inadequate and fail to address the systemic injustices that contribute to wrongful convictions.
In many cases, appellate courts may only review legal errors made during the trial and not consider new evidence that could prove a defendant’s innocence. This can result in innocent individuals being denied relief and remaining incarcerated for crimes they did not commit. It is crucial to reform the appellate review and post-conviction relief process to ensure that all relevant evidence is considered and that justice is served.

The Importance of Addressing Systemic Injustice in the Criminal Justice System

Addressing systemic injustice in the criminal justice system is a matter of fundamental fairness and human rights. Innocent individuals should not be wrongfully convicted and have their lives and families destroyed by a system that is supposed to uphold justice.
Secondly, addressing systemic injustice would help restore public trust and confidence in the criminal justice system. When people see that the system is fair and equitable, they are more likely to have faith in its ability to deliver justice.
Finally, addressing systemic injustice can help prevent future wrongful convictions and ensure that the real perpetrators are held accountable for their crimes. By implementing reforms that address racial disparities, implicit bias, lack of resources, flawed eyewitness identification, coercive interrogation tactics, plea bargaining and overcharging, and inadequate appellate review, we can create a more just and equitable system.

Let’s Work Together

It is important for individuals to get involved and advocate for reforms that address these issues. We can all support organizations that work towards criminal justice reform, contacting elected officials to voice concerns, and educating others about the importance of addressing systemic injustice.
By working together, we can create a criminal justice system that upholds the principles of fairness, equality, and justice for all.


The Young Lions Youth Organization is a proud recipient of a Nuevo en US grant (, funded by Car Credit ( The grant is designed to help nonprofits upgrade their marketing efforts and increase their visibility in the market, especially in Spanish language media.

Steve Cuculich, owner of Car Credit, believes that people are more important than profits. “Many of us have experienced hardship and struggle in our lives. I am committed to creating community collaborations that offer a hand up to those in need,” he says, “Together we can help our neighbors on their way along The Road to the American Dream.”