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Lack of legal system diversity can hurt criminal defense cases

Many people of color accused of crimes in Virginia and throughout the United States have felt that the justice system has been stacked against them. Two recent studies of the nation’s justice system have found that the racial demographics show a mammoth disparity between the racial makeup of judges and prosecutors and the communities they serve.

In the United States, approximately 13% of the population is Black, and 39% are people of color. However, the racial makeup of judges and prosecutors comes nowhere near that racial makeup. One study showed that in 2015, 95% of elected prosecutors were white, and in 2016, fewer than 20% of state trial judges were Black; in some states, that percentage was less than 10%.

Such poor percentages do not bode well for individuals attempting to mount a sound criminal defense to maintain their innocence. Vanderbilt University Law School Professor Tracey George comments that such disparity undermine the legitimacy of the courts when prosecuting individuals of color. In other word, they’re not getting a fair shake.

Some of the disparity may be attributed directly to the scarcity of Black and Hispanic individuals in the legal professions. According to the American Br Association, only 5% of attorneys in 2019 were Black while another 5% were Hispanic; at the same time, 85% of attorneys were white.

The lack of representation in the legal system can pose major obstacles for those mounting criminal defense cases. Researchers say that judges who are female, Black or Hispanic often have different attitudes toward criminal cases involving defendants of color and rule accordingly. While defendants may not be able to change who prosecutes them or presides over their trial, they may try to tip the scales in their favor by working with legal representatives who understand this disparity and strive to protect their rights.


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