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United States Courts for the Ninth Circuit
Office of the Circuit Executive
Contact: Mark Mendenhall
P.O. Box 193939
San Francisco, CA 94119
(415) 556-6177/FAX -6179
Ninth Circuit Federal Courts Issue Final Report
on Study of Racial, Religious & Ethnic Fairness
The Ninth Circuit Task Force on Racial, Religious & Ethnic Fairness has issued its final report, the product of a three-year study of the effects of race, religion, and ethnicity on the business of the courts of the Ninth Circuit. The task force’s findings and recommendations are found in the 77- page Final Report of the Ninth Circuit Task Force on Racial, Religious & Ethnic Fairness, August 1997, issued by the Ninth Circuit Office of the Circuit Executive. The 18-member task force, consisting of judges, court staff, lawyers, and a social scientist, was formed in late 1993 and chaired by United States District Judge David F. Levi of Sacramento, California. Charged with investigating the effects of race, religion, and ethnicity on the business of the federal courts in the nine western states, the task force focused its attention on three areas:
(2) the litigation process—how do judges and lawyers view the effects of race, religion, and ethnicity on the fairness of the litigation process in Ninth Circuit courts?
(3) criminal justice issues—does the race or ethnicity of criminal defendants unfairly influence pretrial detention decisions or sentencing outcomes?
The Final Report provides a summary overview of the six individual scholarly research studies that were conducted under the auspices of the task force to answer the questions posed above.
Among the major findings, the task force found:
* Both minority and white employees generally report that the courts of the Ninth Circuit are fair employers who do not treat employees disparately based upon their race, religion, or ethnicity. However, about one-third of court employees reported having heard demeaning or disparaging comments based upon gender, race or ethnicity within the last three years. The two most frequent sources of such statements were reported as court staff or members of the public.
* However, criminal defense attorneys, and assistant federal public defenders in particular, report many more instances of bias by other counsel, judges, or court staff.
* The rate of pre-trial release or detention varies by racial or ethnic group. At the level of the circuit, 65% of Hispanic defendants, 45% of African American defendants, 32% of white defendants, 26% of Native American defendants and 26% of Asian defendants were detained in 1994. However, these differences in rates of detention generally are explained by factors such as citizenship, criminal history, nature of the crime charged, and residential status. When analyzed by district, the data reveal that race and ethnicity are not statistically significant variables in the detention decision.
* The rates and reasons for detention vary substantially from district to district.
* The study of sentencing data for 1994 and 1995 finds that although the average sentence varies by defendant race or ethnicity, from a high of 61 months for African American defendants to a low of 30 months for Asian/Pacific Islander defendants, these difference are explained by a set of legally relevant factors most often associated with characteristics of the offense, such as the presence of a firearm, and the criminal history of the defendant.
The Final Report concludes:
Based upon the findings, the task force has issued seven specific recommendations calling for:
1. Review of the final report by each district to determine what programs or changes would be desirable and report back to an oversight committee.
2. Adoption of a resolution by each district reaffirming its commitment to fair and equal treatment of all persons.
3. Further investigation and study of the disparity in perceptions found in the attorney
5. Increased educational offerings to judges, court employees, and lawyers on issues of racial, religious, and ethnic bias, with specific reference to particular cultures in each district.
6. Development of an improved system for identifying and sharing interpreter resources across districts, and for expanding the availability of interpreters in civil cases.
7. Continuing oversight by an appropriate body to assure implementation and follow-up work on racial, ethnic, and religious fairness issues.
The Ninth Circuit courts completed and published a study of gender bias in the courts in 1993; this study of the effects of racial, religious, and ethnic fairness follows up on the earlier work of the gender bias task force. Only one other federal court, the District of Columbia Circuit, has undertaken and completed a study of racial bias. Several other circuits, including the First, Third, Eighth, and Eleventh Circuits, have task forces that are conducting studies in these areas.
The 77-page Final Report of the Ninth Circuit Task Force on Racial, Religious & Ethnic Fairness, August 1997, is available while supplies last from the Office of the Circuit Executive, P.O. Box 193939, San Francisco, CA 94119;_ 415-556-6152. The Final Report is also accessible on line at <http://www.ce9.uscourts.gov>. For further information, contact Assistant Circuit Executive Mark Mendenhall at _ 415-556-6177, or the chair of the task force, United States District Judge David F. Levi at _ 916-498-5725.