Study Shows Black Defendants Treated More Harshly in Washtenaw County

Social Justice Group Study

A social justice group known as Citizens for Racial Equity in Washtenaw (CREW) County has found that black defendants in Washtenaw County are more likely to get harsher punishments and more likely to see additional criminal charges than similarly situated white defendants. CREW examined case data from the Washtenaw County Circuit Court relating to criminal felony cases and released its findings on August 27th. The data examined spanned a 6-year period from 2013-2019 and found that black defendants were exponentially more likely than whites to be charged with felonies such as:

• Resisting or obstructing an officer,
• Controlled substance violations,
Armed robbery,
• Felony firearm,
Homicide, and

Note: These are not all of the crimes that CREW found to show disparate treatment towards black defendants. The study in its entirety can be read here.

The report’s findings showed that black defendants are more likely to be convicted than white defendants and also received longer sentences in prison that white defendants. The report found that white defendants are more often sentenced to probation than black defendants are. CREW concluded their report with a list of recommendations which include:

• County oversight by the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners,
• Forming a new “race equity” commission,
• Have a neutral third party evaluate case decisions
• More transparency in plea offers
• Create an online database with statistical information related to race
• Perform regular audits

The Washtenaw County Prosecutor’s Office said that they have not reviewed the contents of the report and will wait to do so before they make any comments on CREW’s recommendations. As the current prosecutor Brian Mackie prepares to vacate his office, this study could be seen as information gained from the past and current practices of the Washtenaw County Prosecutor’s Office.

Normal Steps in a Criminal Case

In the state of Michigan, once a defendant is convicted either by trial or by plea, the defendant is then sent to the probation department for a pre-sentence interview and subsequent report. The information that is gained from this interview will then be put into a pre-sentence report which will give detailed information about the defendant, any criminal history and a recommendation on sentence. This sentence recommendation is based on the Michigan Sentencing Guidelines which is a point system that determines the appropriate range of minimum sentences for Michigan felony cases. Arguments about whether certain scores can be properly applied to the defendant are usually hashed out beforehand or argued about before a judge who will make findings about which scores should be applied. There are four Washtenaw County Circuit Court judges that oversee felony criminal cases and determine what they feel to be appropriate sentencing for convicted defendants. Each of the Washtenaw County Circuit Court judges are mentioned as having some sort of racial disparity in sentencing within the CREW report.

Presumed New Prosecutor’s Statement

This study comes at a time when there is expected to be a significant change in approach and ideology within the Washtenaw County Prosecutor’s office. Presumed Washtenaw County Prosecutor-Elect Eli Savit issued a statement showing support for CREW and their efforts in putting their report and findings together. One of Savit’s campaign promises is to implement a neutral third party to evaluate and eliminate racially biased practices within the prosecutor’s office. He noted that across the country, prosecutor practices are directly responsible for racial disparities. He acknowledges that there is a lot of work to do, and he stands ready to make the changes necessary within Washtenaw County for a more balanced and equal approach towards criminal justice regardless of race. He lauded CREW for what he called an “illumining” report. Savit is in line to replace current Washtenaw County Prosecutor Brian Mackie, who has served in the position since he took office in the beginning of 1993. Savit is coming into the job of head prosecutor without any prior experience as a prosecutor, so it will be interesting to see how he will put his imprint on the office and its policies.

Any Further Questions?

If you or a loved one is facing the potential of criminal charges and prosecution in Washtenaw County, then it is important to speak to an experienced Washtenaw County criminal defense attorney immediately. At Grabel & Associates, our attorneys have over 100 years of combined experience in successfully defending criminal cases all over the state of Michigan and specifically Ann Arbor as one of our offices is located near downtown. We offer a FREE consultation to anyone with questions relating to a possible or existing criminal charge against them or a loved one. Feel free to contact us on our 24/7 defense line at 1-800-342-7896. You can also contact us online or come visit us at one of our three statewide locations. We can also come to you.

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