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Using a Ratio Test to Estimate Racial Differences in Wrongful Conviction Rates

Author

Listed:
  • Bjerk, David J.

    () (Claremont McKenna College)

  • Helland, Eric

    () (Claremont McKenna College)

Abstract

We show that under arguably plausible assumptions regarding the DNA exoneration process, in expectation, the ratio of DNA exoneration rates across races among defendants convicted for the same crime in the same state provides an upper bound on the ratio of wrongful conviction rates across races among these defendants. Our estimates of this statistic reveal that among those sentenced to incarceration for rape in the United States between 1983 and 1997, the wrongful conviction rate among white defendants was less than two-thirds of what it was for black defendants. Our results with respect to murder are inconclusive.

Suggested Citation

  • Bjerk, David J. & Helland, Eric, 2017. "Using a Ratio Test to Estimate Racial Differences in Wrongful Conviction Rates," IZA Discussion Papers 10631, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  • Handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp10631
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. John Knowles & Nicola Persico & Petra Todd, 2001. "Racial Bias in Motor Vehicle Searches: Theory and Evidence," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 109(1), pages 203-232, February.
    2. David S. Abrams & Marianne Bertrand & Sendhil Mullainathan, 2012. "Do Judges Vary in Their Treatment of Race?," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 41(2), pages 347-383.
    3. Kate Antonovics & Brian G. Knight, 2009. "A New Look at Racial Profiling: Evidence from the Boston Police Department," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 91(1), pages 163-177, February.
    4. Mustard, David B, 2001. "Racial, Ethnic, and Gender Disparities in Sentencing: Evidence from the U.S. Federal Courts," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 44(1), pages 285-314, April.
    5. Grogger, Jeffrey & Ridgeway, Greg, 2006. "Testing for Racial Profiling in Traffic Stops From Behind a Veil of Darkness," Journal of the American Statistical Association, American Statistical Association, vol. 101, pages 878-887, September.
    6. Shamena Anwar & Hanming Fang, 2006. "An Alternative Test of Racial Prejudice in Motor Vehicle Searches: Theory and Evidence," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 96(1), pages 127-151, March.
    7. Ezra Friedman & Abraham L. Wickelgren, 2006. "Bayesian Juries and The Limits to Deterrence," Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization, Oxford University Press, vol. 22(1), pages 70-86, April.
    8. David Bjerk, 2007. "Guilt Shall Not Escape or Innocence Suffer? The Limits of Plea Bargaining When Defendant Guilt is Uncertain," American Law and Economics Review, Oxford University Press, vol. 9(2), pages 305-329.
    9. Miceli, Thomas J, 1990. "Optimal Prosecution of Defendants Whose Guilt Is Uncertain," Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization, Oxford University Press, vol. 6(1), pages 189-201, Spring.
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    More about this item

    Keywords

    wrongful convictions; racial bias; judicial bias; exonerations; DNA evidence;

    JEL classification:

    • K14 - Law and Economics - - Basic Areas of Law - - - Criminal Law
    • J15 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Economics of Minorities, Races, Indigenous Peoples, and Immigrants; Non-labor Discrimination

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