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Study reveals that race affects plea offers and convictions

The plea offers and sentences that criminal defendants in Wisconsin ultimately receive may partially depend on whether they are black or white, according to a new study. Black people, including those who have no criminal records, are much likelier than whites to receive harsher convictions and sentences.

According to a study that was conducted by a researcher from the Loyola Law School, whites are 74 times likelier than blacks to have their charges dropped, dismissed or reduced. Among people who did not have prior criminal records, those who were white were substantially likelier to have their charges dropped or reduced. The study included 30,807 people in Wisconsin during a seven-year period who were charged with misdemeanor offenses.

According to the researcher, the results show that race is used by prosecutors when they are trying to decide what plea offers to extend to the defendants. The use of race as a determining factor also means that prosecutors may view black defendants as likelier to commit crimes again in the future simply because of their race. There are also problems with black defendants feeling that they must plead guilty to offenses simply so that they can get out of jail when they are unable to afford to post bond.

The disparate treatment of defendants based on race within the criminal justice system is a pervasive issue. People who are convicted of criminal charges may face multiple penalties, including incarceration, substantial fines, probation and others. Even if the offenses of conviction are misdemeanors, having a criminal record can cause numerous other problems. Having a criminal record can make it difficult for people to get jobs and housing, and they might also have problems getting approved for credit. Experienced criminal defense attorneys might be able to fight their clients' criminal charges so that they may avoid some of these harsh consequences.

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