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Is race a consideration in plea deals?

While our justice system is predicated on equal treatment under the law, there is a constant undercurrent of inequality based on race. A number of studies have shown the prevalence of minorities being arrested and charged with crimes at a higher rate compared to non-minorities. But in a new study, the notion of African-American defendants receiving less favorable plea deals compared to white defendants is detailed.

The study, completed by a Loyola Law School professor, examined more than 30,000 misdemeanor cases in the state of Wisconsin over a seven year period. It found that white defendants were 74 percent more likely to have criminal charges dropped, reduced or even dismissed compared to African-American defendants. Moreover, white defendants with no prior criminal history were much more likely to have charges reduced compared to African-American defendants. 

The study also gives credence to the notion that white prosecutors may use preconceived notions of recidivism based on race when charging defendants and offering plea deals. Indeed, prior studies have supported this notion, but the Loyola Law study is the first to use empirical evidence covering the entire life of a criminal case to support its conclusions.

As such, it is not surprising that African-American and minority defendants are punished more severely in criminal courts compared to their white counterparts.

There are a number of factors and correctable problems fostering this situation. Of course, prosecutors hold enormous power in determining how to charge defendants and recommending bail, which invariably leads to guilty pleas. But having an experienced criminal defense attorney can help defendants make informed decisions and avoid unnecessary guilty pleas. 

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