Apr 8, 2021 - News

Study: Black, Hispanic defendants face inequity in Denver courtrooms

Denver District Attorney Beth McCann being sworn in

Beth McCann is sworn in as Denver District Attorney at the Wellington E. Webb Municipal Office Building in 2017. Photo: John Leyba/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Black and Hispanic defendants are met with a "persistent set of disadvantages" in Denver courts, according to a new study commissioned by the district attorney’s office.

Why it matters: The prosecutor's office is a key player in criminal justice outcomes, yet an area of the system that researchers know less about.

  • District attorneys’ offices are widely considered a "black box" when it comes to how they prosecute cases, Stacey Bosick, the study’s author, told Axios.
  • The Denver DA’s Office is one of the first in the nation to open its data to a researcher for such a collaboration, Bosick said.

Details: The 44-page report examined equity in prosecution decisions from thousands of Denver felony cases. The findings include:

  • Cases involving Black and Hispanic defendants were less likely to be deferred to a probationary period before sentencing than those involving white defendants.
  • Cases involving Black defendants were 31% more likely to be dismissed during prosecution than those involving white defendants — meaning Black people were more likely to face charges despite scant proof.
  • White defendants involved in drug cases were twice as likely as Black or Hispanic defendants to go to drug court, which is designed to keep people out of prison.

What’s next: Bosick’s team is recommending deeper data collection and research, including examining cases that involve juveniles.

  • District Attorney Beth McCann will host a virtual forum today to share the study and push other district attorneys to examine equity in the criminal justice system.

This story first appeared in the Axios Denver newsletter, designed to help readers get smarter, faster on the most consequential news unfolding in their own backyard.


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