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Study Shows “Significant” Racial Disparities in Plea Deals

Taylor Walker
Written by Taylor Walker

White defendants generally get better plea deals than their black counterparts, and are more likely to avoid incarceration for low-level offenses, according to new research by Carlos Berdejó of Loyola Law School, who analyzed more than 48,000 cases occurring over a period of seven years.

Most research into racial disparities in the criminal justice system has focused on arrests, initial charges, and sentencing, Berdejó points out in his report. These studies often reveal that African Americans are more likely to be searched by police during traffic stops, be arrested, have force used against them, and charged with more serious crimes than white people. Far fewer studies have looked at disparities in the stages between charging a defendant, and a judge’s final sentencing.

According to Berdejó’s research into the plea bargaining stage of a case, white defendants are 25 percent more likely than black defendants to have their principal charge dropped or reduced to a lesser charge. Because of this, white defendants charged with felonies are less likely than black defendants to actually be convicted of a felony. Whites are 15 percent more likely than their black peers to receive a misdemeanor conviction, instead. Similarly, cases involving white defendants charged with misdemeanors are 75 percent more likely to end in no conviction, or a conviction for a crime that carries no jail time, than a black defendant accused of the same crime. Cases involving serious felonies result in similar outcomes for black and white defendants, but the disparities are more pronounced in misdemeanor and low-level felony cases, according to the study.

“The impact of a misdemeanor conviction on a defendant’s life should not be understated,” Berdejó writes. “Although certainly less serious and severe than felony convictions, misdemeanor convictions can carry major consequences for individuals…not only are black defendants originally charged with misdemeanors more likely to be convicted of a misdemeanor than white defendants, but conditional on a misdemeanor conviction these black
defendants are more likely to be punished by incarceration than white defendants.”

Controlling for other factors, outcomes are particularly affected by defendants’ criminal histories, Berdejó found. White people with no prior criminal history are more likely than black defendants with no criminal history to have their charges reduced, according to the study. The gap disappears for the most part when black and white defendants have prior convictions–both groups get similar treatment from prosecutors.

“These patterns in racial disparities suggest that prosecutors may be using race as a proxy for a defendant’s latent criminality and likelihood to recidivate,” Berdejó writes.

Although the study’s author is based in Los Angeles, at Loyola Law School, he chose to look at data in Wisconsin.

The state has one of the highest incarceration rates for black males, according to Berdejó. Data from 2010 shows that African Americans, who represented 7 percent of the state’s population, made up 43 percent of the prison population. Most of the disparity can be traced back to Milwaukee, where 50 of black males between the ages of 30 and 50 have spent time in state prison.

Berdejó says he chose Wisconsin, specifically, because the state’s courts’ data is “comprehensive,” he wrote. There’s a specific set of information regarding each crime, which allowed Berdejó to follow the trajectory of a case from initial charges to sentencing.

Local district attorneys’ offices make decisions regarding charges and plea bargains, and in Wisconsin and elsewhere, prosecutors have broad discretion in filing charges and in the plea bargaining process. It’s rare for a judge to reject a plea agreement, Berdejó writes.

The study looks at Wisconsin court data involving felonies and misdemeanors committed on or after January 1, 2000, that were adjudicated before December 31, 2006.

Berdejó says he narrowed down the data to look at Dane County, which includes the state capital, Madison, and is the second most populous after Milwaukee. The final dataset contains 48,368 cases from Dane County. Of those, 17,561 included a felony crime as part of the initial charges. The other 30,807 involved misdemeanors and lesser charges.

The Loyola researcher grouped the cases by charge severity, and controlled for certain characteristics of the crimes and defendants, as well as the identity of the prosecutors, quality of the defense attorney, and other factors.

“Efforts to mitigate racial disparities in sentencing and incarceration rates should take into account disparities in the plea-bargaining process and initial charging decisions,” Berdejó writes. “Proposals aimed at restricting prosecutorial discretion by increasing judicial discretion, for example via the elimination statutory minimum sentences, would seem to remedy these disparities.” Berdejó says his research also supports criminal justice experts’ calls for increased scrutiny of the misdemeanor process.

40 Comments

    • I’m a human trafficking expert and mostly testify for the defense. I agree LE goes out of their way to arrest and prosecute blacks for human trafficking when other races are only charged with pimping. The difference is 8-year max for pimping compared to life in prison for trafficking.

  • America is an evil place for people of color.

    Mexican Sheriffs, Black Sheriffs, Mexican politicians all throughout the country, black CEO’s, black statesman from all over, female black SOS, black president, affirmative action, school entry preferential treatment, Black Congressional Leaders, Black POA, Mexican POA and even the Black Entertainment Channel.

    I don’t know how they get by in this lopsided evil nation. My god, if I were treated like that, I would move to a better country with more freedoms and opportunity!!!!

  • And Governor Brown just signed a bill getting rid of automatic sentencing enhancements for felony crimes committed using a firearm. This enables judges discretionary latitude when imposing sentence in these cases.

    Hmm…sounds like a perfectly reasonable and sound decision in order to avoid human bias and prejudice in the legal system by instead, introducing implicit human bias. Way to go Governor Brown.

  • Why would anyone who’s ancestors were brought here before many others immigrated through Elis Island or crossed the border, have fought in every war and whose blood and sweat went into building this county leave now?

    Many of the quite majority know this and ain’t going nowhere. This is their home, country and they are just as proud of it and loyal as any other American.

    In fact, unlike many other Americans who claim familial allegiance to Mexico, England, France, etc., they can make no such claim. America is their true home, with no other country allegiances expressed or asserted.

  • Maj. Kong likes the numbers he likes and dislikes those he does not like. He’ll pick the “facts” that best suits his needs. Who cares about the numbers, when the lilly White cast at Fox says otherwise. Those folks are Fair and Balanced. Besides, Im sure Maj. Kong thinks Blacks are scarier and should get more time. No doubt they probably put a scare or two while patrolling the hood and he probably has nightmares that his little girl will bring one home.

    Ownership – BET? Really? They have a channel so its all good? There are 4 CEOs in Fortune 500 companies. I know the math is hard, but that is a little, little number, just to make it easy for you. To date, there have been about 10 black senators; not now, throughout history. To make it easy, that is an even smaller number, or. as you would say, a littler number. I know it seems like a lot because you wish there were less, and one uppity black is one too many. I’m sure you long for those days when there was no BET and no Rappers.

  • CF….I do wish there was no BET. You’re absolutely correct. Black people don’t need it. Hundreds of amazing black actors erased the need for a black only channel. They are on an even playing field just as most every other playing field.

    It only creates division which is what most black people want. Most black people in this country want to remain completely divided right up until it means they go without. You can’t have it both ways.

    CF, you are so racist but you just can’t admit it. The pure white bigots are out there, but their numbers are few. I truly think you believe they are in great numbers but they aren’t. It’s time to look at the true picture Brother. Black people need to Knock the chip off of their shoulders and look deep within their communities. The problems are within, and not caused by the Blue Eyed White Devil. It’s so easy to blame everything else and not look at the Core Issues.

    And I like a lot of Rap music.

  • And your implication about the 4 black CEO’s being from some form of discrimination is exactly what I’m talking about. If a Fortune 500 Board Of Directors found a person who could advance their company, the wouldn’t care if the person was green covered in blue dots. Are you kidding me?!?! Time to really look at the Core Issues and honestly ask yourself why there aren’t more black CEO’s.

    I’ve got some very sad news for you. It’s not because of the Blue Eyed White Devil. Al Sharpton loves the fact you believe it is.

  • Ownershit, “Most black people in this country want to remain completely divided?” Really? Just like they have been for the past few hundred years. Yes, who can not want to remain a slave, or more recently, in the place white people relegated them to – the worst housing, schooling, etc. And, BET causes division? As my black friends would say, Negro, please. I suppose you are pissed at all the Spanish language channels, the Korean, Chineses and Vietamese, too. It’s amazing that with digital television there is now programing in about 5 languages. I’m sure that pisses you off. You long for the Leave it To Beaver Days.

    Do not get upset because some blacks are doing better than you. I’m sure you feel entitled because your family has been here for a hundred years, or so, and they came “legally.” And, you look around, some blacks and browns are doing better than you and your kids. Hell, I am sure some of them give you lip when you pull them over. I understand. Its enough to piss you off. And, why don’t you school me with your racist intellect and tell me why there are so few black CEOs (after you said they were all over the place). Finally, Vanilla Ice, Eminem, and Mclemore do not count.

  • Cf ,maybe if you share your trauma with us you can stop projecting your hurt feelings onto other people. You’re sounding shrill and delusional again.

  • Wow!! I struck a cord. Truth hurts.

    Nobody can call me a racist. My best friend, whom I consider my brother, is black.
    If I had my way, Condelezza Rice would be POTUS with Allen West as her VP. I would appoint Colin Powell as SOS.

    There are not more black CEO’s because black people have leaders like Al Sharpton who lines his pockets convincing people like you that you’re a lifetime victim.

    Black people doing better than me. I love it and have several black Supervisors. I would follow them into battle, not because of the color of their skin, but because they’re leaders. They don’t see me as white and I don’t see them as black. We see each other as men combatting evil. We don’t spend our time whining about the imperfections of this country. We go to work and do our jobs.

    You should research Condelezza Rice and listen to what she has to say. She knows there are bigots that despise her because of the color or her skin. You will never hear her use that as an excuse.

    Stop Fucking whining!! The entire country is sick of it. Racism is not going anywhere, so rise above it and stop blaming everyone else for your community’s ills!!!

    Tupac, Biggie Smalls and Bone Thugs in Harmony are on my IPod.

    • You gave yourself away when you said “My best friend is black”. It’s the bottom of the 9th in the World Series and I was in a melancholy mood until I read your post and I’m “laughing my ass off” literally. You guys must share the same playbook.

    • Your best friend is black, Tupac, Biggie and B.T.H. on your IPod…..your script is straight outta “Malibu’s Most Wanted”.
      You’re killing me. Next you’ll say that you pledged “Alpha Phi Alpha” at a Southern HBCU.

  • Ohhhh gotcha. I tried to get across that skin color doesn’t play a role in my work or personal life. Sorry you took it so personally.

  • Ownership, you are so funny. “I’m not racist, I have a black friend.” Funny. It’s like when your girlfriend tells you, “Its not you, its me.” No, it is you and you are a racist. Even the slave master was “fond” of some of his slaves.

    Btw, you forgot Clarence Thomas for chief justice. I think you just mentioned 1/2 of all of the blacks in the Republican party. I’m sure your best friend, or “brother,” is also Republican. Be honest. Surprise me, and tell me he is not a Republican. I think the only other blacks in the Republican party you did not mention are Alan Keyes, Ben Carson and the token black guy behind Trump at the Trump rallies.

    Maj. Kong, thanks for the concern, but there was no trauma. Just calling it as I see it, or, as they say in the ‘hood, just keeping it real. When I see someone pulling shit out of their ass, I have a tendency to point it out.

    Thank you for the entertainment, gentlemen. Let us move on.

  • Cf ,your little douche bag clichés don’t hide the trauma. Looks like some serious lunch money was lost in your past.

  • CF….. Read all your posts. Never ONCE have you taken ANY Ownership!!! Not for your community or yourself. It’s Fucking pathetic actually. And yet it’s still a mystery to you why you don’t see the numbers you desire. Unbelievable.

  • CF… All you do is blame blame blame…. whine whine whine. Won’t get you anywhere, people are numb to it. Until you address the true Core Issues, nothing will ever change.

  • CF.. Colin Powell is a Democrat. Your pathetic whiny ignorance keeps shining through nice and bright. All you and Still Laughing could jump on was that my best friend is black. Truly time for both of you to grow up.

  • I know Taylor loves to find whatever she can to show how the system screws over the poor suspects of all types but more so those of color but this study is more bs from this cop hate site.
    As usual I come back for a quick peek and no positive cop stories as Celeste promised, no surprise, and CF is still infected with the all cops are assholes syndrome he’ll take to the grave.
    That being said what you leftist simpletons don’t realize is that the ADA’s play a numbers game and as a guy who was in the DB for a long time it was a constant battle for me to get the charges filed I wanted. Not once do I ever remember the race of a suspect being a part of a conversation, not once. I knew lots of liberal ADA’s don’t think there was some concentrated effort to hose POC’s and certainly not in the fed system where I have family and friends.
    On top of that war understand in our area we have more than our fair share of POC’s doing a whole lot of crime and from a personal point a view, like it or not and hate to burst your lefties bubble regarding the stat I read where force was more often used against POC’s than Whites, well they liked to resist more in my neck of the woods, just how it was.
    Amazing how lacking the reporting is here, how little thought goes into digging into things and getting a viewpoint other than what you’ve already decided is the right one before writing such silliness.

    • You bring up an important isssue concerning force. More often than not, as evident in live footage, you hear and see many officers say “Stop resisting”. With that being said you usually see that there is “no resistance” at all with said suspect. The truth always comes out sooner but usually later. Truly bad.

  • Sure Fire, thank you for your usual words of wisdom. Surely you worked under the great Chief Gates, who, using his medical training, determined that “blacks might be more likely to die from choke holds because their arteries do not open as fast as they do in ‘normal people.'” Never mind that blacks were more likely to be put in choke holds. No doubt you think blacks resist more than “normal people.”

    I’m sorry your feelings are hurt by the lack of positive police stories you were “promised.” Please do note, that if you do your job, that is what is expected. It’s not extraordinary. Do you really want a cookie for doing your job? Please stop acting like 5 year old. And, that “stop resisting” is similar to “I though he was reaching for his waist,” a cover-your-ass tactic.

  • Hey Citizen, how many fights have you been in and when you’re looking at a video can you tell if someone is truly resisting by simply watching it? If you say yes you’re a dunce as so often active resistance is being applied by the tightening/flexing of muscles, outward pressure, squirming and all types of other types of physical activity the subjects engaged in that doesn’t include physically striking the officer….get it?
    Gates, nice guy personally, met him, never worked for him. Nice to know your bulbous head never leaves it’s place up that ass of yours CF.

    • Denial and making excuses is lame, not to mention deplorable. Name calling is childish. You’re very angry but silent towards wrong cops with bad deeds which doesn’t say much about your credibility. The majority of law enforcement is needed and welcome. Zero tolerance for bad cops in America.

  • Hey CF, Celeste was the one on her own to say she was going to post positive police stories here. Holding her to that irritates you because you’re a cop hater and don’t want to see any, I understand that but don’t care. Get back under your rock, it’s your safe place Twinkie. Hope that cleared it up for you.

  • No Citizen, I’ve had bad cops fired so STFU but till you’ve actually been in the type of situation I spoke of you have no standing, you’re just a bystander shooting off your mouth, the type of person who will video a cop in a fight and do nothing to help. Your words mean nothing to those who engage.

    • Surefire: This is in your neck of the woods. Do your due diligence re: the Orange County Court ruling on force where Deputy Michael Higgins emptied his 18 shot semi automatic pistol into suspect Conner Zion, then kicking his head like a football, all with no resistance. Satisfied?

  • No, I read on this but what would be the point of giving you my opinion? If you can’t already tell what I’m about than you’re not paying attention. I could post videos all day of cops doing the most heroic of things and in their last moments alive, what would it accomplish? This isn’t a contest much as you seem to be making it that. I said on another thread there’s not, statistically speaking, a police brutality problem in this country, I stand by that regardless of any story or video you throw up.

    • I’m not competing with you, just showing you what America sees. Facts override your personal opinion. Much to your perceived astonishment I’m Pro Law Enforcement but only for the one’s doing their job correctly. The problem is that justice and policing has never been on an even keel for everyone. Go figure.

  • Seriously, where have you posted about any of them doing their job correctly, I think I missed it. The public isn’t so easily swayed by even a dozen videos and there’s a reason for that. I already challenged Celeste, but anyone she wants to call to help her, or you or anyone else that want to try to make a case for there being an epidemic of police brutality or it being the issue the media and cop haters make it out to be is welcome to bring it and I’ll be happy to debate it. Facts won’t be your friend, just saying.

  • Sure Fire: Not sure what you’re thinking Bro. It’s so much easier to blame the cops than to address the true Core Issues. I keep telling you that and you refuse to listen. Sarcasm off.

    Celeste and the rest of the Far Left refuse to acknowledge the fatherless children with no example, deplorable education, gangs and near genocidal homicide rates in our inner cities on top of police brutality. We all know, but most refuse to admit, that police brutality is incredibly low. Yes it does occur, but not nearly at the rate as cowards like Celeste would like everyone to believe. It sells, bottom line.

  • Celeste, let me know next time you’ll be on a live radio show. I’ll call in and make it real interesting for you and the host. Still wonder about Reg, miss my old “friend.”

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