The overturning of convictions based on DNA evidence is prompting changes in criminal procedures, says the Washington Post. States and cities are enacting or considering changes to decades-old police methods such as eyewitness identifications and police interrogations that lead to confessions. “The exonerations have been an extremely important force in getting the legal system to recognize there’s a problem,” said Gary Wells, an Iowa State University psychology professor whose research led to new practices in eyewitness identification. “I’ve been working at this for 30 years, and before DNA they pretty much ignored the studies.”
Of the 200 people whose convictions have been overturned by DNA evidence since 1989, 60 percent have been black or Latino, data from the Innocence Project indicate. Of those exonerated after a rape conviction, 85 percent were black men accused of assaulting a white woman. Black men are accused in 33.6 percent of rapes or sexual assaults of white women, says a 2005 U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics study of victims. “If you are a black man charged with sexually assaulting a white woman, the likelihood that you will be convicted, even if you are stone-cold innocent, is much, much higher,” said Peter Neufeld, co-director of the Innocence Project.