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U of L Lecture Explores Racial Disparities in Criminal Justice

Prison cell bars
Prison cell bars

More than 95 percent of criminal convictions in the U.S. never go to trial because the vast majority of criminal defendants accept plea bargains.

That’s the topic of a lecture planned for Monday afternoon at the University of Louisville by Brady Heiner, a philosophy professor at California State University, Fullerton.

The presentation -- and the paper it's based on -- is called "Prosecuting Race: Mass Incarceration and the Unfinished Project of American Abolition." In it, Heiner argues that plea bargaining and prosecutor discretion perpetuates racial inequality in the system.

In such agreements, defendants plead guilty to lesser charges than they initially faced in exchange for shorter sentences.

"When you're thinking about the school-to-prison pipeline, the prosecutorial function really serves as the primary valve that controls the volume of folks, and the disposition of folks who are charged and ultimately sentenced and confined in U.S. jails," he told WFPL.

Heiner said so many defendants take plea bargains rather than risk trial because prosecutors charge them with the most -- and most severe -- charges they can.

“What prosecutors do is level an excessive set of charges, to effectively and intentionally coerce a criminal defendant into accepting a plea rather than to face an excessive stack of charges," he said.

Heiner speaks at 4 p.m. Monday in the Ekstrom Library's Chao Auditorium on U of L's Belknap campus.

Laura is LPM's Director of Podcasts & Special Projects. Email Laura at lellis@lpm.org.

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