Category Archives: Studies

Life Sentences Increase

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Article by Samantha Michaels of Mother Jones discusses how one out of every nine prisoners in the United States is currently serving a life sentence—a record high—even as the overall prison population has fallen.

That’s according to a depressing new report by the Sentencing Project, an advocacy group that’s been tracking life sentences since 2004. Almost 162,000 people are now serving life behind bars, up from 132,000 about a decade ago and 34,000 in 1984.

To put that in perspective, for every 100,000 people in America, 50 have been locked up for life. That’s roughly the total incarceration rate—including inmates whose sentences are just a few months—in Scandinavian countries like Denmark, Sweden, and Finland.  And it doesn’t even account for the tens of thousands of Americans handed sentences of 50 years or more, which are considered “de facto life sentences,” says Ashley Nellis, a senior research analyst at the Sentencing Project who co-authored the report.

What’s driving the uptick? It’s not a rise in violent crime or murder—both have dropped substantially since the mid-1990s. Nor is it an increase in the number of criminals behind bars: A majority of states saw declining overall prison populations from 2010 to 2015.

According to Michaels, the continuing rise in lifers is a legacy of three-strikes laws and mandatory minimum sentencing.

“It may also be related to the shift away from capital punishment,” she says. She further elaborates that in some states that no longer allow executions, elected officials like governors and prosecutors have championed life-without-parole sentences—which account for the biggest increase in life sentences nationally—as a way to appear tougher on crime.

“Going forward, we will have a system that allows us to put these people away for life, in living conditions none of us would want to experience,” Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy, a Democrat, said in 2012 when his state abolished the death penalty. But these lengthy punishments probably aren’t keeping the public safer. “The impulse to engage in crime, including violent crime, is highly correlated with age,” the Sentencing Project notes. “Most criminal offending declines substantially beginning in the mid-20s and has tapered off substantially by one’s late 30s.”

The biggest losers of all this? Minorities. Of all the lifers and de facto lifers in the country, almost half are African American. What’s more, 12,000 of the total are locked up for crimes they committed as kids, though some are eligible for release thanks to recent court decisions.

In 2010, the Supreme Court ruled that life-without-parole sentences are unconstitutional for juveniles who didn’t commit homicide. In 2012, the justices went further, saying that mandatory life-without-parole sentences for kids, including those who committed homicide, are also unconstitutional. Nineteen states and DC now ban any kind of life-without-parole sentence for juveniles.)

Finally, according to Michaels, it’s important to remember that many of the prisoners serving these long sentences never actually hurt anyone: Two-thirds of lifers or de facto lifers in the federal system committed nonviolent crimes—and one-third of them are serving time for drug crimes.

With Attorney General Jeff Sessions at the helm of the Justice Department alongside his team of tough-on-crime advisers, there’s a good chance that won’t be changing anytime soon.

My opinion? I couldn’t agree more.

Students, Not Suspects

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Interesting article by Claudia Rowe of the Seattle Times describes a report from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) saying says that police officers patrolling school hallways brings significant costs to the learning environment and finances of our schools.

“We were surprised by the degree to which officers have almost unfettered ability to enforce in school discipline,” said Vanessa Hernandez, youth policy director at the ACLU who wrote the “Students Not Suspects” report. “That’s a pretty dangerous road to go down, to have student discipline in an educational environment handed to a law enforcement agent, and it really sends a troubling message to students about how we perceive them.” The advocacy organization examined data from the 2013-14 through 2015-16 school years in more than 100 districts.

National data show a strong correlation between placing officers in schools and increased youth referrals to the criminal justice system. And in Washington, state law makes it a misdemeanor to cause a disturbance within school walls. “Any student misbehavior — from talking back to a teacher, to making an off-color joke, to throwing spitballs — could be treated like a crime,” Hernandez said.

Thirty years ago, few schools used police to respond to misbehavior. But in recent decades the number of officers patrolling the halls has ballooned — from fewer than 100 nationally in the late 1980s, to an estimated 17,000 today. Yet no state agency systematically tracks police in schools, or the impact on students. Most commonly, officers are contract employees who report to their police departments, not district administrators.

In Washington, Hernandez added, at least 3,400 kids were either arrested on campus or referred to law enforcement for prosecution during in the 2013-14 school year, which is the most recent data available.

In a time when state lawmakers are wrestling with a multibillion dollar hole in funding for education, schools are spending millions on police officers, the report found.

Seventeen districts pay the entire cost of their school police, covering salaries, benefits and even, in two cases, leasing patrol cars. On average, schools contribute about $62,000 annually for each full-time officer, and up to $125,000 at the high end.

 That adds up fast in districts that use officers in multiple schools. Spokane, for example, paid more than $1 million for school officers during the 2014-15 school year, the report says. And Kent — which is facing an $18 million budget hole — spent almost $500,000 in 2015-16. (Seattle’s school police officers are covered by the city, not the school district budget.)

Other approaches, like restorative justice and trauma-informed teaching, have been shown to reduce disciplinary incidents by addressing the underlying causes of misbehavior, and the ACLU suggests that money for police might be better spent on school psychologists, social workers or teaching assistants.

Yet momentum has moved in the opposite direction. Nationally, 24 percent of elementary schools and 42 percent of middle- and high schools routinely hire police officers, according to the report.

But not all schools have police officers. In high-poverty schools — whether urban or rural — police are a much more routine presence. In small-town Walla Walla, for example, the alternative school where 80 percent of kids are low-income, has an officer. But the regular comprehensive high school, where only 45 percent of students are low-income, does not. Even the tiny Liberty district, with about 450 students, has a police officer on staff, the ACLU found.

Race Bias Video for Jurors

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The King County Bar Association Bulletin reported recent efforts to tackle the problem of race bias in juries. In U.S. District Court Produces Video, Drafts Jury Instructions on Implicit Bias, Judge Theresa Doyle of the King County Superior Court discussed how our federal courts created an instructional video on race bias to be viewed by potential jurors.

RACE BIAS 

For those who don’t know, racial biases are a form of implicit bias, which refers to the attitudes or stereotypes that affect an individual’s understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner. These biases, which encompass unfavorable assessments, are often activated involuntarily and without the awareness or intentional control of the individual. Residing deep in the subconscious, these biases are different from known biases that individuals may choose to conceal for the purposes of social and/or political correctness.

“We all have biases,” writes Judge Doyle in her article. “These unconscious, instantaneous, almost automatic judgments can help us get through the day. However, when those unconscious biases stereotype a person because of race, gender, national origin, sexual orientation, age or other qualities, they are no longer helpful but harmful to the right to a fair trial.”

She discusses how results from the Implicit Association Test (IAT) and other research show a high and nearly universal preference of whites over blacks. Even with African-American test-takers, 40 percent showed a pro-white preference. “Jurors bring these biases to court when they report for jury service,” said Judge Doyle. “However, where race is never mentioned but lurks in the background, e.g., where a party in a case . . . is a person of color, that racial or ethnic bias is most likely to rear its ugly head.”

BACKGROUND TO THE CREATION OF THE VIDEO

Judge Doyle described how in 2015, then-Chief Judge Marsha Pechman of the Federal U.S. District Court of Western Washington appointed a committee to develop an answer to the question of what should courts do about the biases and prejudices that jurors bring with them to court.

Apparently, at the same time, the federal defenders were conducting a criminal trial. During jury selection, the federal defenders showed a videotape that dealt with potential race bias. After the trial was concluded, the committee spoke to Judge Jones, the federal prosecutors, defense lawyers and some of the jurors.

Judge Doyle said that based on all of the committee work, including the interviews, the committee developed a script and worked with a production company to produce a video presentation on the nature and impact of implicit or unconscious bias.” In February, after nearly two years of work, the video was finished and the committee had developed pattern jury instructions on implicit bias for use in criminal cases; which were adopted by the Court. “The instructions incorporate language regarding unconscious bias into a preliminary instruction, the witness credibility instruction, and a closing instruction,” said Judge Doyle.

THE VIDEO

A link to the video and jury instructions is here. It features Judge Coughenour, defense attorney Jeffery Robinson, and Annette Hays, acting U.S. attorney for the Western District of Washington. “These three explain how such automatic preferences and biases can influence our perceptions and decisions, threatening the constitutional right to fair trial and due process, and jeopardizing public confidence in the legal system,” says Judge Doyle. “Research shows that awareness of unconscious biases is key to minimizing their effects on perceptions and decision making.”

My opinion? My hat’s off to the judges and attorneys involved in the creation of this video. During jury selection, I’ve struggled to introduce these controversial and galvanizing topics. Talking about race is a difficult needle to thread. It can raise suspicion that defendants are trying to “play the race card” on behalf of my Client, which is exactly untrue: I’m trying to take the “race card” off the table. Fortunately, this video – a tool from the courts, and not an advocate – educates the jury and approaches the subject of race bias from a more objective place.

Kudos to the federal courts. Good work. I’m proud of you.

Another Study Finds Few Consequences For Prosecutor Misconduct

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Blogger Radley Balko of the Washington Post describes how a large-scale study from the New England Center for Investigative Reporting discovered that systemic prosecutor misconduct in Massachusetts dated back to 1985.

The report found more than 1,000 cases in which misconduct was alleged by criminal defendants and 120 in which a state appeals court reversed conviction due to misconduct. The group found an additional 134 verdicts reversed or thrown out due to misconduct after reviewing data from the state bar.

Balko says it’s difficult to draw conclusions from the raw number of incidents because most prosecutor misconduct goes unreported. He says the failure to turn over exculpatory evidence often becomes apparent only once a defendant has exhausted their appeals, after which the defense gets access to the prosecutor’s files. But by this point, many defendants no longer have legal counsel.

Additionally, Balko poignantly describes why defense attorneys intentionally do not report prosecutorial misconduct:

“When defense attorneys do find misconduct by prosecutors, there are also some strong incentives against reporting it. Most criminal defense attorneys will also have several other clients being prosecuted by the same office, perhaps even the same prosecutor. Reporting misconduct could jeopardize the attorney’s ability to bargain for those clients. Often, the more enticing option is to use the discovery of misconduct as a bargaining chip to get a better deal for the defendant in that case and perhaps earn favor from the prosecutor in others.”

The topic is not new to Mr. Balko. He summarized a handful of similar studies in a piece for the Huffington Post a few years ago.

“There are a handful of ways to keep wayward public officials honest,” says Balko.  He believes in the success of electoral accountability as a viable option. Still, relying on voters to keep prosecutors honest is a risky proposition. “The groups more likely to be victimized by excessive prosecutors are also the groups with the least amount of political power.”

The Most Charged Crime

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Apparently, the most commonly charged crime in Washington State – Driving While License Suspended in the Third Degree (DWLS III)- shouldn’t be a crime at all, the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union argues in a new report.

In “Driven to Fail: The High Cost of Washington’s Most Ineffective Crime – DWLS III” the report describes the costs of enforcing this law, explores how it burdens individuals and communities, and calls for policies that address the harm of driving with a suspended license without criminalizing it. According to the ACLU, taxpayers spend more than $40 million a year to prosecute cases of DWLS III.

“Not every social problem needs to be treated as a crime,” said Mark Cooke, the ACLU of Washington’s Campaign for Smart Justice Policy Director. “DWLS III enforcement costs taxpayers millions of dollars, yet does little to improve public safety. The crime is largely punishing people for being poor, not because they are scofflaws or dangerous drivers,” said Cooke.

Typically, a DWLS III charge comes about this way: A driver receives a ticket for a moving violation (such as speeding or rolling through a stop sign) and for various reasons does not follow through by paying the ticket or showing up in court to contest it. Hundreds of thousands of people in Washington have had their license suspended for not responding to a ticket for a moving violation. Those who continue to drive once their license is suspended may be arrested and charged with DWLS III.

The report estimates that Washington taxpayers have spent more than $1.3 billion enforcing this crime between 1994 and 2015. These costs stem from the filing of nearly 1.5 million DWLS III criminal charges, resulting in nearly 900,000 convictions. In 2015, there were nearly 40,000 DWLS III charges filed, costing taxpayers $42,199,270. The report also shows that the law is applied unequally across the state and disproportionately impacts people of color, the young, and the poor.

The report recommends that the crime of DWLS III should be taken off the books. Short of that, law enforcement, prosecutors and courts can exercise their inherent discretion and treat DWLS III as a civil offense and offer relicensing programs. Civil remedies and relicensing can be more effective and use fewer criminal justice resources. The data in the report also shows that some jurisdictions, such as the cities of Yakima and Seattle, have started to treat DWLS III as a non-criminal offense.

My opinion? It’s no mystery that DWLS III allows police to arrest people with suspended licenses. However, most don’t know that it allows police to search people’s vehicles after arrest.  Therefore, any contraband, guns or other illegal items found in people’s cars can be lawfully seized. Additionally, the defendant will face unlawful possession charges for whatever contraband found during the search. In my opinion, this is the essence of an unlawful pretextual search. And for that reason, DWLS III should be a civil infraction which circumvents the need for arrest and searches. It should not be a crime.

New Federal Data Shows Decrease in Drunk Driving Rates

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According to reporter Christopher Ingraham of the Washington Post, new federal statistics show that the rate of drunken driving in the United States fell to a 13-year low in 2014, the latest year for which data is available. The rate of driving under the influence of illicit drugs has not changed meaningfully in recent years but remains slightly lower than it was in 2008 and 2009 at the start of the Obama administration.

Here’s a summary of some other findings:

  • In 2014, 27.7 million people aged 16 or older (11.1 percent) drove under the influence of alcohol in the past year, and 10.1 million (4.1 percent) drove under the influence of illicit drugs in the past year. About 7.0 million (2.8 percent) drove under the influence of alcohol and illicit drugs in the past year, including 5.9 million (2.4 percent) who drove under the simultaneous influence of alcohol and illicit drugs in the past year.
  • The percentage of people driving under the influence generally increased with age through the young adult years and then declined with age thereafter; percentages were higher among males than females.
  • The percentage of people aged 16 or older who drove under the influence of alcohol in 2014 (11.1 percent) was lower than the percentages in 2002 through 2012 (ranging from 11.8 to 15.3 percent).
  • The percentage of people aged 16 or older who drove under the influence of illicit drugs was lower in 2014 (4.1 percent) than in 2002 through 2006 and in 2009 through 2010.
  • The percentage of people aged 16 or older who drove under the simultaneous influence of alcohol and illicit drugs was lower in 2014 (2.4 percent) than in 2002 through 2010 (ranging from 2.9 to 3.4 percent).

Ingraham reported that although experts caution that while the trend is heading in the right direction, there’s still a lot of work to be done. “Although it is heartening to see a downward trend in levels of driving under the influence of alcohol, it still kills thousands of people each year and shatters the lives of friends and loved ones left behind,” said Frances Harding, director of the Center for Substance Abuse Prevention at SAMHSA, the agency that produces the survey.

The SAMHSA survey showed that young adults — particularly men ages 21 to 25 — had by far the highest impaired driving rates. More than 1 in 5 men ages 21 to 25 drove drunk in 2014, nearly 1 in 7 drove under the influence of other drugs, and roughly 1 in 12 drove while simultaneously drunk and drugged.

One the other hand, young adults have also seen the greatest reductions in drunken driving prevalence over the past 13 years. Since 2002, the drunken driving rate fell by fewer than three percentage points among drivers age 26 and older. But the rate among drivers ages 21 to 25 dropped by more than 10 percentage points. And the prevalence among the youngest drivers, ages 16 to 20, fell by more than half.

Ingraham reports there’s no single factor driving the decline in drunken driving rates. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention credits interventions like strong drunken driving laws, public awareness campaigns, and ignition interlock systems that don’t allow drunk drivers to start cars.

Some states are experimenting with innovative programs that essentially take away the right to drink alcohol, period, for people convicted of certain alcohol-related crimes. There’s also evidence that ride-sharing services like Uber can reduce drunken driving rates, although not all researchers agree on this.

My opinion? This is extremely good news. Although it’s important to save lives by reducing traffic accidents through education, prevention, and all other possible measures; it’s equally important that defendants facing these criminal charges hire capable and competent defense counsel as soon as possible to protect their rights, review the evidence and ensure a fair trial when necessary.

Contact my office for a free consultation if you, a friend or family member face DUI or related charges.

What Happened After Voters Legalized Recreational Marijuana?

Reporter Christopher Ingraham of the Washington Post wrote an article discussing how that the availability of recreational marijuana — in Colorado and elsewhere — is having little to no effect on teens’ propensity to smoke weed.

COLORADO

In his article, Ingraham supports his claim with the official statistics out of Colorado through 2015. It’s also what federal data shows nationwide through this year. And it’s also backed up by other federal surveys of drug use in the states where marijuana is legal.

It appears the data on this point has been consistent enough that longtime skeptics of the merits of marijuana legalization, like Nora Volkow of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, are expressing surprise at the findings. “We had predicted based on the changes in legalization, culture in the U.S. as well as decreasing perceptions among teenagers that marijuana was harmful that [accessibility and use] would go up,” Volkow told U.S. News and World Report earlier this month. “But it hasn’t gone up.”

WASHINGTON

However, a study out Tuesday in the journal JAMA Pediatrics flies somewhat in the face of the new conventional marijuana wisdom. Examining marijuana use among high school students in Washington state two years before and after the vote to legalize in 2012, it finds that rates of marijuana use increased by about 3 percent among 8th- and 10th-graders over that period.

INTERPRETING THE FINDINGS

The authors posit that reduced stigma about marijuana use is one factor leading to the results that they observed.

“Our study suggests that legalization of marijuana in Washington reduced stigma and perceived risk of use,” said lead author Magdalena Cerdá of the University of California in Davis in a news release, “which could explain why younger adolescents are using more marijuana after legalization.”

The findings are something of a puzzle. The study found no change in marijuana use among 12th-graders in Washington state, which the authors said could be because the 12th-graders in the study were old enough that “they had already formed attitudes and beliefs related to marijuana use” before the legal change.

The study also found no change in use among students at any grade level in Colorado. The authors write that Colorado had a robust medical marijuana industry in place well before full legalization, which may have affected youth attitudes and behaviors there before the study period.

Among adolescents, the perceived harmfulness of marijuana has been declining for decades among all age groups. But at the same time, adolescent use of marijuana has been flat or falling. This has led some researchers, including Mark Kleiman of New York University, to rethink the nature of the link between what teens think about weed and whether they use it.

In an email, Kleiman pointed out that in Washington state, the recreational marijuana market didn’t open until halfway through 2014, and then only in limited form. That’s halfway through the “after” period (2013 to 2015) in the JAMA Pediatrics study.

“The effect of the legalization initiatives themselves on price and availability of cannabis really wasn’t felt until after” the study’s surveys were done, Kleiman said. “Any measured effect would be more likely the result of the political campaign around legalization than legalization itself.”

Indeed, the study’s authors agree with that assessment. “Simply legalizing an activity can change people’s views about it and can change their behaviors as well,” said co-author Deborah Hasin of Columbia University in an email.

 

Exonerations On the Rise

 

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News reporters Alanna Durkin Richer  and Curt Anderson of the Associated Press wrote an article describing how last year, 68 out of 157 exonerations were cases in which the defendant pleaded guilty. In Trial or Deal? Some Driven to Plead Guilty, Later Exonerated the article describes the difficult dilemma of many defendants in the criminal justice system: either accept the Prosecutor’s plea offer or risk facing much harsher consequences if found guilty at trial.

Apparently, more than 300 of the more than 1,900 people who have been exonerated in the U.S. since 1989 pleaded guilty, according to an estimate by the National Registry of Exonerations. The registry is maintained by the University of Michigan Law School using public information, such as court documents and news articles.

Last year, 68 out of 157 exonerations were cases in which the defendant pleaded guilty, more than any previous year. The numbers reflect an overwhelmed criminal justice system with public defenders taking more cases than they can handle; as well as court officials who try saving the government money with plea bargains compared with costly trials.

The data is even more daunting. Last year, more than 97 percent of criminal defendants sentenced in federal court pleaded guilty compared with about 85 percent more than 30 years ago, according to data collected by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. The increase in guilty pleas has been a gradual rise over the last three decades.

No one knows exactly how many innocent people are behind bars for pleading guilty. Sociologists have estimated that between 2 and 8 percent of people who plead guilty are in fact innocent.

The article emphasized how defendants who were exonerated after pleading guilty often have prior criminal records and come from poor backgrounds and are not well-educated. They’re typically represented by public defenders juggling dozens of cases in a day.

Many exonerees were cleared of wrongdoing by taking a new look at DNA evidence in blood or other body fluids, according to the University of Michigan database. Some were the victims of prosecutorial misconduct, while shoddy police work was to blame in other cases — such as a mistaken FBI hair analysis or falsified fingerprint evidence. Some falsely confessed because of improper interrogation techniques while others maintained their innocence throughout.

Making the matter worse, it’s not just prosecutors and defense attorneys who seek to cut plea deals. The article said many judges prefer that route, too. Judges who resolve cases rather than let them languish tend to be seen as more successful. Similarly, explained the article, prosecutors who close cases tend to rise faster in their careers.

My opinion? People facing criminal charges MUST seek experienced defense counsel to defend their rights, investigate the facts, interview witnesses, argue pretrial motions, put their clients in the best light possible and conduct an active; fair trial when necessary.

Contact my office as soon as possible if you, a friend or family member is facing criminal charges. The epidemic of increased exonerations due to injustice in our courts as well as our incoming administration’s trampling of individual rights shows a growing need for competent representation. Put simply, defendants should not plead guilty to criminal charges they are not guilty of.

Felony Disenfranchisement & Voting.

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A new study conducted by professors Christopher Uggen, Ryan Larson, and Sarah Shannon and released by the Sentencing Project reveals that a record 6.1 million Americans are forbidden to vote because of felony disenfranchisement, or laws restricting voting rights for those convicted of felony-level crimes. The number of disenfranchised individuals has increased dramatically along with the rise in criminal justice populations in recent decades, rising from an estimated 1.17 million in 1976 to 6.1 million today.

Apparently, the United States remains one of the world’s strictest nations when it comes to denying the right to vote to citizens convicted of crimes. An estimated 6.1 million Americans are forbidden to vote because of “felony disenfranchisement,” or laws restricting voting rights for those convicted of felony-level crimes.

The study’s key findings include the following:

  • As of 2016, an estimated 6.1 million people are disenfranchised due to a felony conviction, a figure that has escalated dramatically in recent decades as the population under criminal justice supervision has increased. There were an estimated 1.17 million people disenfranchised in 1976, 3.34 million in 1996, and 5.85 million in 2010.
  • Approximately 2.5 percent of the total U.S. voting age population – 1 of every 40 adults – is disenfranchised due to a current or previous felony conviction.
  • Individuals who have completed their sentences in the twelve states that disenfranchise people post-sentence make up over 50 percent of the entire disenfranchised population, totaling almost 3.1 million people.
  • Rates of disenfranchisement vary dramatically by state due to broad variations in voting prohibitions. In six states – Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Virginia – more than 7 percent of the adult population is disenfranchised.
  • The state of Florida alone accounts for more than a quarter (27 percent) of the disenfranchised population nationally, and its nearly 1.5 million individuals disenfranchised post-sentence account for nearly half (48 percent) of the national total.
  • One in 13 African Americans of voting age is disenfranchised, a rate more than four times greater than that of non-African Americans. Over 7.4 percent of the adult African American population is disenfranchised compared to 1.8 percent of the non-African American population.
  • African American disenfranchisement rates also vary significantly by state. In four states – Florida (21 percent), Kentucky (26 percent), Tennessee (21 percent), and Virginia (22 percent) – more than one in five African Americans is disenfranchised.

My opinion? It makes no sense why convicts are prevented from voting if they’ve been sentenced and punished. It’s a terrible violation of civil rights. Period. Please contact my office if you’re a convicted felon who has paid your debt to society and want your voting rights and/or firearms rights restored.

Marijuana Arrests Increase.

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Excellent article from reporter Timothy Williams of the New York Times discusses a new study by the American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights Watch which reveals that marijuana arrests were about 13.6 percent more than the 505,681 arrests made for all violent crimes, including murder, rape and serious assaults.

The report comes in the wake of the fatal police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott last month in Charlotte, N.C. Mr. Scott, 43, had attracted police attention in part because, the police said, he was smoking marijuana.

The report is the latest study to highlight the disparate treatment African-Americans often receive in the criminal justice system, including disproportionate numbers of blacks who are sent to jail when they are unable to pay court-imposed fees, or stopped by the police during traffic stops or while riding bicycles. Its many findings are disturbing.

THE REPORT’S FINDINGS:

  • Although whites are more likely than blacks to use illicit drugs — including marijuana, cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and prescription drugs for nonmedical purposes — black adults were more than two-and-a-half times as likely to be arrested.
  • In Iowa, Montana and Vermont — places with relatively small populations of African Americans — blacks were more than six times as likely to be arrested on drug possession charges than whites.
  • In terms of marijuana possession, black adults were more than four times as likely to be arrested as white adults in the 39 states in which sufficient data was available.
  • In Manhattan, where blacks make up about 15 percent of the population, African-Americans are nearly 11 times as likely as whites to be arrested on drug possession.
  • African-Americans may also be more apt to face arrest, according to researchers, because they might be more likely to smoke marijuana outdoors, attracting the attention of the police.
  • The above disparities persist whether there are few or many African-Americans in a given area.

Mr. Williams also wrote that, according to criminologists, African-Americans are arrested more often than whites and others for drug possession in large part because of questionable police practices. Police departments, for example, typically send large numbers of officers to neighborhoods that have high crime rates. A result is that any offense — including minor ones like loitering, jaywalking or smoking marijuana — can lead to an arrest, which in turn drives up arrest rate statistics, leading to even greater police vigilance.

“It is selective enforcement, and the example I like to use is that you have all sorts of drug use inside elite college dorms, but you don’t see the police busting through doors,” said Inimai M. Chettiar, director of the Justice Program at New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice.