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Study: Prosecutors may use race to determine plea offers

Despite the fact that black people in Texas aren't more likely than white individuals to commit crimes, they are arrested in disproportionate numbers. In addition to the problem of racial profiling by the police, a new study reveals that the disparate treatment of black criminal defendants also extends further into the criminal justice system after their arrests.

A researcher from Loyola Law School was interested in finding out whether defendants were treated differently by prosecutors and the courts based on their races. He reviewed data from 30,807 misdemeanor cases that were filed in Wisconsin over a period of seven years. Seventy-five percent of criminal cases in the US are misdemeanors, which are low-level criminal offenses.

The researcher found that white defendants had a 74 times greater chance of having their charges reduced or dismissed than black defendants. When individuals of both races had no prior criminal histories, the white defendants also were much likelier to have their charges reduced or dismissed. Another problem that the researcher found is that black people who were poor were often assigned bail amounts that they could not afford to pay. Many defendants pleaded guilty simply to get out of jail even if they might have been innocent.

The research brings some troubling aspects of the criminal justice system to light and points to the need for reform. All people have the constitutional right to present a strong defense to their criminal charges. Individuals should not be funneled through the criminal justice system on the basis of their race. People who are charged with crimes might want to get help from experienced criminal defense lawyers as soon as possible after they have been charged. The attorneys may present data to the prosecutors about the disparate treatment of black defendants in an effort to secure more favorable plea offers.

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