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Prosecutors shown to use race as a determining factor in pleas

Black Minnesotans who are charged with crimes are much likelier to receive harsher sentences and to be forced into accepting pleas simply to get out of jail. A new study reveals the disparities between the sentencing of black and white criminal defendants, demonstrating a need for substantial changes.

A researcher from Loyola Law School reviewed data from 30,807 misdemeanor cases that took place over a period of seven years in Wisconsin. He found that white defendants were 74 percent likelier than black defendants to have the charges that carried jail time dismissed, reduced or dropped. Among white and black people who were facing charges for the first time, the white people were much likelier to have their charges reduced than were the black people.

The researcher says that the results of the study demonstrate that prosecutors use race as a factor in determining whether or not they believe that defendants will recidivate. This determination then leads the prosecutors to decide the types of plea offers to make. The study results demonstrate that prosecutors may rely on racial considerations when they are prosecuting people, leading blacks to receive disproportionately harsh sentences.

Whether people are charged with misdemeanors or felonies, they have the constitutional right to present a defense. Criminal convictions may have far-reaching consequences beyond the potential for incarceration. Experienced criminal defense lawyers may investigate their clients' cases and work to build the strongest defenses possible for them. If defense lawyers believe that the prosecutors who are assigned to their clients' cases are making harsher offers to the defendants based on their race, the attorneys may file motions with the court to alert it of the pattern. The attorneys may also try to secure favorable plea offers or dismissals. If they can't, they may fight for their clients' rights by litigating the matters fully through motions hearings and jury trials.

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