Friday, March 18, 2016

Virginia Newspaper Finds Racial Disparities in Plea Outcomes

The Daily Press in southeastern Virginia released an article yesterday detailing its review of court records related to plea deals in the Hampton Roads circuit courts. According to the article, the newspaper found racial disparities in the outcomes of cases. In particular, the article states that the data examined indicates that, for some of the most commonly charged offenses, white defendants were more likely to receive a deal that did not include jail time as compared to African-American defendants.

A few examples of the data discussed in the article:

"Whites were able to negotiate plea bargains on charges of drug possession that resulted in no actual jail time in 65 percent of cases, compared to 56 percent for African-Americans."
"In plea deals on charges of distributing drugs, whites received no time in jail in 48 percent of their plea agreements, compared to 22 percent for African-Americans. All but a handful of these cases involved people who had been before the courts on other recent charges. All of that handful, of both races, negotiated plea deals that involved no jail time."
"For grand larceny — stealing goods worth more than $200, among the lowest thresholds for felony theft in the nation — 55 percent of whites negotiating plea deals received no jail time compared to 48 percent of African-Americans."

You can read the entire Daily Press article and the complete findings of the review here. The newspaper also has some very interesting charts containing the data they reviewed, available here.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Voices on Innocence

Readers might be interested in a new article I have just posted to SSRN entitled "Voices on Innocence."  The piece, written with several colleagues from around the country, contains a number of essays on the topic.  In my introduction to the work, I discuss my plea bargaining research and the importance of the innocence issue to the field.  

The abstract for the article is below.  The piece, which will appear in the Florida Law Review later this year, is available for free download here.


Voices on Innocence, 68 Florida Law Review -- (forthcoming) (with Richard A. Leo, Meghan J. Ryan, Valena E. Beety, Gregory M. Gilchrist, and William W. Berry III). 

In the summer of 2015, experts gathered from around the country to sit together and discuss one of the most pressing and important issues facing the American criminal justice system – innocence. Innocence is an issue that pervades various areas of research and influences numerous topics of discussion. What does innocence mean, particularly in a system that differentiates between innocence and acquittal at sentencing? What is the impact of innocence during plea bargaining? How should we respond to growing numbers of exonerations? What forces lead to the incarceration of innocents? Has an innocent person been put to death and, if so, what does this mean for capital punishment? As these and other examples demonstrate, the importance and influence of the innocence issue is boundless. As the group, representing various perspectives, disciplines, and areas of research, discussed these and other questions, it also considered the role of innocence in the criminal justice system more broadly and examined where the innocence issue might take us in the future.

This article is a collection of short essays from some of those in attendance - essays upon which we might reflect as we continue to consider the varying sides and differing answers to the issue of innocence. Through these diverse and innovative essays, the reader is able to glimpse the larger innocence discussion that occurred in the summer of 2015. As was the case at the roundtable event, the ideas expressed in these pages begins a journey into an issue with many faces and many paths forward for discussion, research, and reform.