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This post is part of the Montana Innocence Project’s #barriers2innocence campaign. As an innocence organization, we work to combat systemic racism because we know that there are numerous barriers between Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) and justice that exist solely because of racism. This campaign aims to highlight some of those barriers. Today’s topic is bias-motivated prosecution:

Prosecutors are tasked with holding people who commit crimes accountable. But some prosecutors are so heavily focused on getting convictions that they overlook justice and allow their biases to takeover—BIPOC suffer the consequences of bias-motivated prosecution most.

“While racial disparity in case outcomes is often attributed to law enforcement practices or judicial decision making, the role of prosecutors is overlooked,” according to the Vera Institute of Justice. “In fact, prosecutors have wide discretionary power in case processing decisions—from initial screening, charging, bail, and pretrial recommendations, to diversion, plea bargaining, and sentencing.

The Montana Innocence Project interviewed Robin Hammond, a former prosecutor and a current public defender with the Montana State Office of the Public Defender, to discuss racial bias in prosecution and how it perpetuates racial inequality and wrongful convictions.

Where does racial bias show up most in prosecution?

Do you think implicit or explicit bias is exhibited more by prosecutors?

How can prosecutors combat racial bias?

How can bias-motivated prosecution contribute to wrongful convictions and how can this be addressed in a prosecutor’s office?

How is bias-motivated prosecution a barrier to innocence for BIPOC?

When a prosecutor implicitly or explicitly holds a bias about BIPOC, they may be more easily convinced of their guilt. As a result, BIPOC may be over-charged or prosecuted for crimes they did not commit.

Action Steps:

  1. Vote. Judges and district attorneys are elected positions.
  2. Don’t avoid jury duty. If a prosecutor exhibits racial bias in a case that goes to trial, a non-biased jury is the most effective way to combat them.

Thank you for participating in the Montana Innocence Project’s #barriers2innocence campaign. Tomorrow’s topic is false accusations.