Black men are sentenced less than white men for crimes

Black men charged with murder, rape and other major crimes are more likely to be acquitted by juries or freed because of a dismissal than white male defendants, according to an analysis of Justice Department statistics.

Those results, based on a one-month study by the Center for Equal Opportunity, defy common assumptions about American justice, the author said."Critics of the criminal justice system have alleged that white men are more likely to be acquitted than Black men," said Robert Lerner, a writer and statistical consultant working with CEO. "Despite numerous articles to the contrary, the data . . . suggest that for most categories of crime, juries acquit Black men at a higher rate than white men."

The findings were based on a Bureau of Justice Statistics compilation of results in 55,512 state court felony cases filed in America's 75 largest counties in May 1992. Those counties included many large cities.

"In 12 of the 14 types of crimes for which data was collected (by the Justice Department) the conviction rate for Black men is lower than that of white men," the study said. That included murder, rape, robbery, assault, burglary, drug offenses, weapons charges and "other crimes against persons."

Black men are convicted at a higher rate for only two categories of crime - felony traffic offenses and for a small number of miscellaneous crimes felonies.

While white men have higher conviction rates overall, including cases that are dropped by prosecutors or voided by judges, there is an even wider gap among cases that reach a jury. Jurors acquitted 83 percent of Black men charged with rape, compared with 24 percent of white men during the month studied .

No white men were acquitted of murder by juries during that time, but juries acquitted 22 percent of Black men. For felony theft, 29 percent of Black men were freed by juries, compared with 22 percent of white men. Of those charged with drug trafficking, 10 percent of Black men were declared not guilty, compared with 7 percent of white men.

Numbers for jury acquittals should, "be viewed with caution," said Lerner, former assistant director of the Center for the Study of Social and Political Change at Smith College. They are relatively small - most criminal cases result in a plea agreement or dismissal - and only a small percentage reach a jury.

But he said overall, the trend of Black men being convicted less than white men is clear.

John Miller, vice president of CEO, a nonprofit research group in Washington, D.C., said there are several possible explanations for the disparity, but said the statistics show some "jury nullification," juries ignoring evidence to acquit based on social or racial factors.

Joseph diGenova, a former U.S. Attorney in Washington, said, "I don't think there is any question that from anecdotal evidence all across the U.S., African-Americans are engaging in jury nullification at a higher level than ever before. This study verifies the anecdotal evidence."



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store