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Racial Factors Can Have Impact on Sentencing

Nov. 29, 2017

Black men in Florida and across the United States have good reason for concern when facing sentencing in a criminal case. A study by the U.S. Sentencing Commission has shown that in many cases, Black men receive longer sentences than those of white men convicted of the same or similar crimes. On average, the study found that the sentences of Black men are 19.1 percent longer than those of white males with similar convictions when examining sentencing data collected between 2012 and 2016.

The Commission, an independent, bipartisan agency that is part of the U.S. federal judiciary, found that this sentencing disparity cannot be explained by factors such as past violence or criminal history. When taking factors like prior violence into account, researchers found an even greater disparity. Black men were sentenced to periods 20.4 percent longer than those of white men convicted of similar crimes with similar violence histories, according to 2016 data.

This report comes on the heels of an earlier study conducted in 2012 that looked at the impact of a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court decision. In this ruling, the Court allowed judges to add more time to a sentence based on their own judgment of the facts rather than adhering to sentencing commission guidelines. The study sought to examine the potential impact of racial bias, including unconscious factors, on the process.

The Sentencing Project, another organization that reviews U.S. statistics around imprisonment and sentencing, noted that the U.S. holds 2.2 million people incarcerated, the most in the world. One out of every 10 Black men is in jail or prison on any particular day according to 2005 data collected by the project.

This report highlights the importance of a criminal defense attorney for people of any race or gender facing criminal charges in court. A defense attorney can provide vigorous representation for any person accused of a crime and help to mitigate long-term consequences. This can include representing a defendant in plea negotiations, at trial or during the sentencing period.