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Racial Bias in Prosecutorial Decision-Making


In the United States, crimes are committed by individuals from distinct races and ethnicities every day. The criminal justice system handles the cases distinctively based on their origin, gender, and race. There is no fair and just procedure to hold the judicial processes due to discrimination and biases relating to racial differences. The resources, information, and infrastructure available determine how prosecutors conduct the prosecution process to promote effective, efficient justice in the criminal justice system. Charging decisions are affected by legal and non-legal factors relating to constraints and circumstances of case processing. The ability of prosecutors to accept and decline certain cases is determined by the judge’s behaviors, quality of investigation conducted, and resources available. Additionally, racial difference is another factor that affects how prosecutors make their decisions. For instance, African-Americans and Latinos in the United States are found guilty based on their race in most cases. Therefore, racial bias is a problem that needs addressing to ensure prosecutorial decisions are effective and just.

Statement of Problem

Prosecutors are responsible for choosing whether to assign charges, dismiss a case, handle an issue at trial, offer plea deals, and incorporate prospective jury members. Factors such as racial bias and stereotypes influence prosecutorial decision-making negatively. For instance, African-Americans are more likely to possess associated crime records than whites. In most cases, the defendants are blacks and Hispanics, while the prosecutors are whites. The racial disparities affect how justice is administered and the charges assigned. Prosecution discretion in decision-making is affected by the relationship between the defendant and the prosecutor and the type of information and resources available. The charging decisions are influenced by interactions and the defendant’s race (Colon et al., 2018). Prosecutors must understand the dangers of stereotypical and unconscious relations linked to ethnic and racial differences for effective and racially equitable results.

Racial disparities contribute to how prosecutorial decisions are made. Implicit biases imply that a particular group of individuals is known to be criminals; thus, the prosecutors will base their decision on those facts during prosecution. Secondly, racial anxiety is another factor that affects how prosecutors make their decisions. For instance, when the defendant is Hispanic or black, and the prosecutor is white, the disparity influences the charges and the tendency to be dismissed. The racial stereotype threat is another consideration prosecutors use to make charging decisions (Arnold et al., 2018). Some individuals have negative criminal records, which are used to process their cases. Additionally, prosecutors may dislike a given group of people, thus prolonging their cases.

Racial anxiety and disparity hinder justice as the whites have unfriendly relations with the blacks, thus making the charging difficult. An alleged case involving African-Americans or Hispanics involves extensive investigation and research compared to a crime committed by the Americans. Prosecutors are more unsafe and insecure when dealing with blacks than when interacting with Americans. Racial bias is a common problem in the criminal justice system that makes most innocent individuals guilty due to unfair and unjust prosecutorial decisions. Additionally, the possibility of framing the blacks for crimes they did not commit is higher due to racial disparity (Colon et al., 2018). Racial bias and stereotypes occur differently and should be addressed differently to promote justice and equitable prosecutorial outcomes. Therefore, it is essential to define some terms related to the problem to understand the causes of racial bias, prevalence, and solutions in prosecutorial decision-making. The concepts play a significant role in showing the connection and interaction between racial disparity and prosecution discretion.

Definition of Terms

Racial disparity is the term used to refer to the differences in beliefs, culture, and skin color exhibited by various groups of people. Racial disparity affects how prosecutors decide why blacks face more injustices than whites. Additionally, non-whites are primarily associated with crimes than whites. The second term is an implicit bias which refers to the automatic connection of attitudes and stereotypes directed to a given group. Implicit biases are stimulated involuntarily and without the individual’s control and awareness. It relates to the cultural beliefs and values of that population. For instance, Latino and African American men are defined by poverty, violence, and criminality. Implicit bias is dangerous as it makes the prosecutors use automated assumptions to decide the outcomes of the alleged crime (Arnold et al., 2018). Implicit bias perceives black men as stronger, larger, and more capable of causing harm which can trigger the jury to assign charges based on the biases.

The other term is stereotype threat, which incorporates a negative racial label about an individual’s identity that can hinder cognitive functioning. The stereotype threat is activated when group members identify their inferior ability, possess the individual’s ability, and recognize them as members of the particular group. The last term is racial anxiety, defined as individuals’ stress reactions before and during interracial connections. Racial anxiety occurs when the prosecutor and the defendant are of the opposite race. Racial anxiety mainly affects people of color and materializes by their expectations to receive hostility, discrimination, and distant treatment due to their skin color (Arnold et al., 2018). Racial bias in charging decisions is a problem that affects how charges will be assigned and the pretrial and trial strategy.

Literature Review

Research on racial biases in prosecutorial decision-making is essential because it allows individuals to understand the charging strategies and other involved processes. The racial discrimination with prosecutors determines the type of sentence and charge an individual is given. According to Romain Dagenhardt et al. (2021), prosecutorial decisions can also have a crucial influence on defendants’ ultimate rulings, whether by reducing judicial decisions or avoiding binding minimums. It shows that most black American defendants are charged harshly by prosecutors at detained pretrial, arraignment, and trial and sentenced severely through plea bargain than the whites. The study also implies that prosecutors may overcharge minority males, leading to induced guilty pleas that reduce charges. The charges reductions among the blacks are less compared to the whites. Racial stereotypes affect the charging decisions by changing the nature of the offense at the verdict. The charges assigned on a racial basis promote discrimination as the blacks are denied justice due to their skin color. Additionally, the article shows that similar offenses are charged differently due to racial disparities. For instance, an American who has committed murder is sentenced to fewer years to jail than a black American convicted of the same offense (Romain Dagenhardt et al., 2021). Therefore, racial disparities affect charges reduction where a given race is assigned lower bails and fines than the others.

The second importance of studying racial bias in charging decisions is because it portrays how prosecutors’ discretion is implemented. In most cases, opposite-race prosecutors use preferences to charge and sentence non-whites unlawfully. However, in some cases, racial discrimination is exercised by prosecutors in making decisions concerning a case dismissal through increased charge or deferment in contemplation of dismissal. “The correlation between the race of defendants and prosecutors’ decisions about how to charge and resolve cases” influences the sentences and charges assigned (Robertson et al., 2019, pp.807). Therefore, when making charging decisions, prosecutors should not consider the racial differences of the defendant for fair and equitable justice.

Prevalence of Racial Bias in Prosecutorial Decision-Making

Racial bias is also portrayed during arrests and convictions, where blacks are more likely to be arrested and wrongly convicted than whites. Before and during prosecution, racial disparity is exhibited where the prosecutors can dismiss charges relating to a white defendant and assign high costs and longer sentences to a black offender of the same crime. Racial bias is also evident during pretrial detention, where whites are more likely to be given lower bail amounts than blacks. The blacks are denied bail or given huge amounts that they cannot achieve, thus being left in prison to wait for trial, plea, and sentence (Kovera, 2019). Therefore, racial disparity is portrayed in all stages of the criminal justice system, with the blacks being disadvantaged by prosecutors and judges. Additionally, most charging decisions are based on implicit racial biases that hinder equitable outcomes. Thus, some strategies should be implemented in the prosecutorial decision-making to ensure defendants are equally and fairly charged, tried, and judged regardless of their race.

Solutions to Racial Biases in Prosecutorial Decision-Making

Prosecution integrity is an aspect that promotes racial equality and fair criminal justice processes. The government should ensure that the prosecutors prevent racial bias, prejudice, and stereotypes that hinder fairness and justice due to racial differences. One of the strategies that the prosecutors need to implement is encouraging diversion. Prosecutors should promote fair and effective processes involving non-arrest diversion and pre-booking programs. The second strategy involves implicit bias training, where prosecutors are educated on racial equality approaches. The training involves awareness-creation and explicit instruction that help prosecutorial decisions be fair and just (Kovera, 2019). The education allows prosecutors to base their decisions on the investigation and available information without racial consideration. Additionally, the education helps the prosecutors concentrate on the case rather than the prejudices and stereotypes associated with the defendant.

The third proposed solution to racial bias in the prosecutorial decision is blinding criminal justice performers to defendants’ race. The defendant’s skin color is hidden from the prosecutor to prevent racial-based decisions. The physical appearance of the defendants is eliminated from the prosecutor. However, the defendant’s name, location, and address can reveal their race (Kovera, 2019). Therefore, prosecutorial integrity promotes equity and fair criminal justice processes. The government should foster effective prosecutorial decisions by electing better prosecutors and justifying the prosecution process to prevent implicit racial bias.


Racial bias in prosecutorial decision-making is a problem that affects many courtrooms in the United States. Prosecutors use implicit racial biases to solve and assign charges to alleged cases. Implicit racial bias, stereotype threats, and racial anxiety are determinants of racial disparity that negatively affect prosecutorial decisions. The prevalence of racial bias is more related to blacks and Hispanics than the whites. The blacks are overcharged, denied bails, and dismissed without explanation than their white counterparts. Therefore, implementing appropriate strategies in prosecutorial decision-making helps foster fair and equitable processes among all races involved in the criminal justice system.


Arnold, D., Dobbie, W., & Yang, C. S. (2018). Racial bias in bail decisions*. The Quarterly Journal of Economics133(4), 1885-1932.

Colon, K. M., Kavanaugh, P. R., Hummer, D., & Ahlin, E. M. (2018). The impact of race and extra-legal factors in charging defendants with serious sexual assault: Findings from a five-year study of one Pennsylvania court jurisdiction. Journal of Ethnicity in Criminal Justice16(2), 99-116.

Kovera, M. B. (2019). Racial disparities in the criminal justice system: Prevalence, causes, and a search for solutions. Journal of Social Issues75(4), 1139-1164.

Robertson, C., Baughman, S. B., & Wright, M. S. (2019). Race and Class: A randomized experiment with prosecutors. Journal of Empirical Legal Studies16(4), 807-847.

Romain Dagenhardt, D. M., Heideman, A. J., & Freiburger, T. L. (2021). An examination of the direct and interactive effects of race/ethnicity and gender on charge reduction. Journal of Crime and Justice, 1-23.


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