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Race and plea bargaining in criminal cases

In Seattle criminal courts, many defendants are given the choice to accept a plea bargain rather than proceed to a jury trial. A study conducted by a professor at Loyola Law School shows that prosecutors may offer less favorable terms to minorities.

The study looked at over 30,000 misdemeanor cases in Wisconsin over a seven-year period and found that white people were 75 percent more likely than black people to have charges carrying prison time dropped, dismissed, or reduced. The study also found that white people with no criminal history were significantly more likely to have charges reduced than black people with no criminal history. The study suggests that prosecutors use race as a factor in determining whether or not the defendant is likely to commit similar future offenses.

One factor in this disparity may be whether or not a person is being held in custody and cannot afford to post a bond to be released from jail prior to trial. A person who is being held in custody may be more willing to accept a plea agreement, especially if it will result in release from jail. A plea bargain results in a conviction, just as a person would receive if found guilty at trial. The advantage of accepting a plea bargain is that the punishment is generally less than what the defendant might receive after a guilty verdict.

A person who is facing a criminal charge may wish to consult a criminal defense attorney. A criminal conviction can have serious long-term consequences for the defendant, such as affecting where the person may live and what type of job the person may hold. A defense lawyer can investigate the case and possibly have charges dismissed or negotiate a favorable plea bargain.

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