Preliminary Report on Race and Washington's Criminal Justice System

Washington Law Review, March 2012 | Go to article overview

Preliminary Report on Race and Washington's Criminal Justice System


MESSAGE FROM THE TASKFORCE CO-CHAIRS ........................... 3

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY ...................................................................... 4

DEFINITIONS ......................................................................................... 7

I. INTRODUCTION .............................................................................. 10

II. RACIAL DISPROPORTIONALITY WITHIN WASHINGTON STATE'S CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM ....... 16

III. PROFFERED CAUSES FOR RACIAL DISPROPORTIONALITY ............................................................. 19

A. Crime Commission Rates ....................................................... 19

B. Structural Racism: Facially Neutral Policies with Racially Disparate Effects ...................................................... 22

1. Racial Disparity in Juvenile Justice ............................ 23

2. Prosecutorial Decision-Making .................................. 25

3. Confinement Sentencing Outcomes ............................ 25

4. Variability and Ethnic Disparity in the Assessment of "Legal Financial Obligations" in Washington State Courts ............................................ 26

5. Racial and Ethnic Disparity in Pretrial Release Decisions in Washington State Courts ........................ 27

6. Racial Disparity in Drug Law Enforcement ............... 29

7. Drug-Related Asset Forfeiture Distorts Law Enforcement Priorities in Washington State ............... 31

8. Racial Disparity in Traffic Enforcement ..................... 34

9. Racial Disparity in Driving While License Suspended (DWLS) Cases .......................................... 36

10. Summary ..................................................................... 39

C. Bias ........................................................................................ 39

1 . Explicit Bias as Reflected in Survey Data .................. 40

2. Implicit Bias Distorts Decisions Throughout the Criminal Justice System .............................................. 41

a. Overview on Implicit Bias ...................................... 41

b. Implicit Biases are Pervasive .................................. 42

c. Implicit Bias Research on Race and Crime ............ 43

d. Criminal Investigations and Arrests Are Influenced by the Race of Potential/Actual Suspects, and Often Are Based on a Faulty Application of Majoritarian Cultural Norms ......... 44

e. Determinations of Guilt and Sentencing Likely Are Influenced by the Race of Defendants, in Conjunction with Other Extra-Legal Factors ......... 45

f. Cross-Racial Eyewitness Identification is Substantially Less Accurate, and Cross-Racial Lineup Construction is Less Fair ........................... 46

3. Bias and Outcomes ..................................................... 47

IV. CONCLUSION ................................................................................ 49

MESSAGE FROM THE TASK FORCE CO-CHAIRS

We are pleased to present the Preliminary Report on Race and Washington's Criminal Justice System, authored by the Research Working Group of the Task Force on Race and the Criminal Justice System. The Research Working Group's mandate was to investigate disproportionalities in the criminal justice system and, where disproportionalities existed, to investigate possible causes. This factbased inquiry was designed to serve as a basis for making recommendations for changes to promote fairness, reduce disparity, ensure legitimate public safety objectives, and instill public confidence in our criminal justice system.

The Task Force came into being after a group of us met to discuss remarks on race and crime reportedly made by two sitting justices on the Washington State Supreme Court. This first meeting was attended by representatives from the Washington State Bar Association, the Washington State Access to Justice Board, the commissions on Minority and Justice and Gender and Justice, all three Washington law schools, leaders from nearly all of the state's specialty bar associations, and other leaders from the community and the bar. …

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