The criminal justice system in North Carolina and around the country has been criticized in recent years for the harsh sentences that are often handed down to minority defendants, but an article published in the Seattle Journal for Social Justice suggests that touching on race issues during the early stages of criminal proceedings can lead to a more equitable outcome. The federal public defender who wrote it reached his conclusions after analyzing criminal trials involving Latino defendants.
The article advises defense attorneys to tackle issues like police bias and cross-racial identification during pretrial motions and the voir dire jury selection process. Making these arguments could lead to evidence being excluded if the police officers involved obtained a search warrant based on racial factors, and experts could be called on to raise questions about the reliability of eyewitness identifications that cross racial lines.
During the voir dire process, prosecutors and criminal defense attorneys ask potential jurors questions that are designed to uncover any bias for or against the defendant. The article urges defense attorneys to use this time wisely by asking potential jurors to share personal anecdotes that involve racial issues. Attorneys may also ask judges to include warnings about stereotyping and implicit bias in jury instructions.
When their clients claim that they have been discriminated against, experienced defense attorneys may check the arrest records of the police officers involved for signs of a prior racial bias. Attorneys could also bring these issues up when mentioning mitigating factors during plea negotiations. Police reports usually provide a grim picture of the accused, but attorneys may seek to overcome this image by pointing out that their client has a full-time job that provides for their family, is supported by friends and relatives and sincerely regrets their actions.