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Crime and Courts

Black, Hispanic people disadvantaged in Denver courts, study of felony cases shows

No racial disparities were found in plea agreements. But more Black people faced charges that Denver prosecutors later found there was not enough evidence to support.

A study of decisions made by the Denver district attorney’s office has said Black and Hispanic people charged with felonies in Denver face “a persistent set of disadvantages” compared with their white peers.

The study found that white people facing drug charges were more likely than Black or Hispanic people to be referred to drug court programs and that white defendants were twice as likely as Black or Hispanic people to have their cases deferred. Case deferrals allow defendants to have charges or entire cases dismissed if certain requirements are met.

Researchers also found that charges against Black people were more likely to be dismissed than charges against white or Hispanic people, meaning more Black people were facing charges where prosecutors later found there was not enough evidence to support the charges, the study said. It did not find any racial disparities in plea agreements.

The study, “Racial Disparities in Prosecutorial Outcomes,” was released Wednesday after being commissioned by Denver District Attorney Beth McCann in 2019. It was funded by the state Evaluation and Action Lab at the University of Denver.

“When examined together, results of this study demonstrate a persistent set of disadvantages faced by Black and Hispanic defendants in the criminal justice system,” said Stacey Bosick, author of the study and dean of undergraduate and graduate studies at Sonoma State University near Santa Rosa, California.

Bosick and researchers analyzed more than 5,800 felony cases filed between July 2017 and June 2018, and interviewed 20 prosecutors in Denver. The study looked at dismissals, deferred judgments, plea agreements and referrals to drug court.

Bosick made recommendations to address the inequalities, including giving prosecutors more time to review evidence and providing additional training and discussions on topics such as implicit bias. She also suggested further data collection and analysis.

“This study is being presented to district attorneys’ offices throughout the state as a catalyst for serious discussion, and for the study of equity in the criminal justice system,” said McCann, who pledged to implement the changes suggested in the study.

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