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Black defendants face harsher sentencing, finds study

Black men in Maryland and across the United States facing criminal sentencing may be worried about the potential impact of racial bias, including unconscious bias, on their sentencing. Those worries are borne out by sentencing data, according to a study by the U.S. Sentencing Commission, a bipartisan, independent agency that is part of the U.S. federal judiciary. Black men receive significantly longer sentences on average than white men convicted of the same crimes or similar offenses. On average, Black men's prison terms are 19.1 percent longer than those of white men; the study found when examining data related to sentencing between 2012 and 2016.

The commission's researchers found that this racial disparity in sentencing outcomes cannot be attributed to other factors like histories of violence or past criminal records. When taking prior violence into account, the racial disparity actually only increased further. Researchers found that when controlling for histories of violence, Black men received sentences 20.4 percent longer on average than white men with comparable histories convicted for the same or similar crimes.

This study follows an earlier report by the Sentencing Commission in 2012 which tracked results in sentencing, including racial disparities. The reports come after a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court decision that allowed judges in criminal cases to use independent judgment in determining and enhancing sentences rather than requiring them to follow guidelines set by the commission.

In the United States, Black men are six times more likely to be incarcerated than white men, while Latino men are 2.3 times more likely, according to data by the Sentencing Project, another U.S. organization that studies criminal justice policy and sentencing. One out of every 10 Black men is in jail or prison on any given day, according to 2015 data collected by the Project.

When facing criminal charges, retaining a criminal defense attorney can be a critically important step for a defendant. A criminal defense lawyer can provide experienced representation for people navigating the rough seas of the criminal justice system, including plea negotiations, criminal trials and sentencing hearings.

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