Study Highlights Racial Disparities in Criminal Case Outcomes Among Defendants in San Francisco

06.29.17 By Innocence Staff

Study Highlights Racial Disparities in Criminal Case Outcomes Among Defendants in San Francisco

A new report conducted by the Quattrone Center for the Fair Administration of Justice reveals that black defendants in San Francisco, California, are treated unfairly from the time of arrest and booking to the time of conviction or guilty plea.

The report reviewed almost 11,000 complete case records from the San Francisco’s Public Defender’s Office. The complete case records provide data from the entire pretrial process, painting a more complete picture of the defendant’s overall experience.

Researchers found that people of color have fundamentally different experiences with the criminal justice system, largely stemming from factors determined during the pretrial process. For example, black defendants are held in pretrial custody 62 percent longer than white defendants, and convicted of felonies 60 percent more often than white defendants. Also, black defendants are sentenced to 28 percent more time than white defendants.

The report attributed these findings to the fact that defendants of color receive more serious charges at the time of booking and that they tend to have previous encounters with the law—because of various factors—that affect how they eventually plea.

KTVU spoke with 65-year-old San Franciscan Leslie Elliott who, according to the Public Defender’s Office, was charged with assault with a deadly weapon and great bodily injury for accidentally spilling coffee on a woman outside a laundromat.

“I’m still afraid to walk the streets of San Francisco,” Elliott told KTVU. “[I’m] just nervous they’re gonna take me and try to hurt me again.”

“The disparity in charging that occurs by the police officer at booking stage carries throughout the entire system,” San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi told KTVU. “For example, if you’re a person of color, instead of a theft charge, you may be charged with robbery.”

Adachi told KTVU that police and prosecutors would normally deny that race affected their decision-making, but the report’s findings make it difficult to refute.

According to KTVU, the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office will launch a new pretrial unit in October to address booking issues before formal charges are brought.

Read the report here.
Read the KTVU coverage here.

Related: New Database Tracks Criminal Cases From Start to Finish, Offers Transparency

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