Latinx Defendants, False Convictions, and the Difficult Road to Exoneration


The National Registry of Exonerations (the Registry) reports all known exonerations in the United States since 1989. Of the more than 2,400 exonerated defendants currently in the database, 281 are classified as Latinx. In many ways, their cases resemble those of other exonerees. The same factors that produced false convictions of non-Latinx defendants—including mistaken eyewitness identification, misconduct by police and prosecutors, and perjury—were also at work in Latinx defendants’ cases.

There are, however, differences both in the types of crimes for which Latinx exonerees were convicted and in the ways in which they were vulnerable to the errors and misconduct that produce false convictions. Moreover, the consequences of a false conviction—though calamitous for anyone—may be more pronounced for Latinx defendants with precarious immigration status.

In this Article, we present what we know about Latinx defendants who have been exonerated— the nature of the crimes, the factors that contributed to their wrongful convictions, and how their cases compare to non-Latinx exonerees. We discuss the particular ways in which Latinx defendants may be vulnerable to wrongful convictions, using case studies to explore how language barriers, racial profiling, and immigration concerns can be exploited in their cases. Finally, we consider barriers to exoneration, and how falsely convicted Latinx defendants may be particularly disadvantaged when seeking to overturn their convictions.

About the Author

The authors edit and staff the National Registry of Exonerations. Barbara O’Brien is the Registry’s Editor and a professor of law at Michigan State University College of Law. Klara Stephens was the Registry’s Denise Foderaro Research Scholar, and Maurice Possley is the Senior Researcher. Catherine M. Grosso is the Managing Editor and a professor of law at Michigan State.