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New proposition lowers racial disparity in drug crime punishments

A new study from California has widespread implications that can reach all the way to New York. The study looked at racial disparities between blacks and whites in the criminal justice system. The study found that black defendants are less likely to have their cases dropped or dismissed, less likely to be successfully diverted, more likely to be released to another agency, and when convicted, receive the longest incarceration sentences and are the most likely to receive a prison sentence.

The December 2017 study showed that California’s Proposition 47, which reduced certain drug-possession felonies to misdemeanors and raised the threshold for felony theft and check forging from $450 to $950 in 2014 has helped narrow the disparity between races. The gap in sentence lengths between black and whites has dropped by half in San Francisco. The felony drug arrest percentage for blacks fell from 23 percent to 9 percent as well. It also decreased the average number of days suspects were held in pre-trial detention. Blacks went from 33 days down to 18 days, while whites went from 17 to 12 days.

New York stats

In 2016, 18,136 people were arrested for marijuana possession in New York City. Blacks made up 46 percent of those arrested for marijuana, 39 percent were Hispanic, while just 10 percent were white. These arrest percentages don’t match up to the percentage of people using the drug. A national study of drug use found that over 33 percent of whites and nearly 28 percent of blacks reported using marijuana over the past year. For non-white New Yorkers, marijuana arrests more often lead to conviction.

Case characteristics that impact outcomes

All of these differences in case characteristics help determine whether to pursue a case, what charges to file and sentencing outcomes:

  • The length of pre-trial detention
  • Having an open case at the time of arrest
  • Having a more extensive criminal history

What the study means

When California reduced the penalties for drug possession, it reduced the racial disparities in the criminal justice system. With people of color getting less criminal justice activity due to decreased penalties, it lowers the relative contribution of case characteristics that tend to worsen racial disparities. The study shows that we as a nation can do more to protect the rights of all its citizens, regardless of race.

If you are arrested, you have rights. An experienced criminal defense attorney will stand at your side through your toughest times. Your attorney can protect your civil rights and help give you the best outcome possible.

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