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Michigan Supreme Court developing dashboard to track potential racial bias in felony sentencing

Rick Pluta
Michigan Public Radio Network
Michigan Supreme Court building

The Michigan Supreme Court is developing a dashboard that will show the felony sentencing records of all circuit court judges across the state.

It's part of the court's ongoing effort to eliminate racial disparities in the court system.

The dashboard could call attention to potential bias in felony sentencing practices by judges. It will also show the sentencing guidelines that judges work from, which reflect the severity of a crime and the previous criminal record of the defendant.

The project is in part a response to an allegation in a report by the group Citizens for Racial Equity in Washtenaw (CREW) that a particular Washtenaw County Circuit Court judge was giving longer sentences to Black defendants than white defendants.

State Court Administrator Tom Boyd said CREW's work was important, but the group did not have access to all the data needed to make that determination. The Michigan Supreme Court investigated and found no evidence of bias. Over a four-year period, the judge, Archie Brown, sentenced Black and white defendants similarly — while giving longer sentences on average than his circuit court peers, the Supreme Court's report found.

Brown has since retired. CREW did not respond to a request for comment.

Boyd said the high court will now build on its report on the 22nd Circuit Court, since there's a clear need for transparency in sentencing across the state.

“The goal of Michigan’s judiciary must be individualized sentences without disparity due to the race or ethnicity of the defendant,” Boyd said. “This study will help trial judges become aware of disparities, so that they can take action to make sure their courts treat all defendants equally."

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Public. She began her career at Michigan Public as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.
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