A joint resolution of the Senate and the House of Representatives of the state of montana requesting an interim study to examine discrimination in Montana's criminal justice system based on race, ethnicity, or national origin.
WHEREAS, there are numerous points of discretion in the criminal justice system and the corrections system that need to be reviewed for causes behind racial disparity in sentencing, including quality of counsel, arrest rates, detention in jail versus release on bail, the various uses of plea agreements and trials, rates of conviction, sentencing patterns, opportunities for effective treatment, rates of incarceration, rates in receiving deferred or suspended sentences and in granting of parole, and differences in probation and parole revocations; and
WHEREAS, Indians represent at least 8.4% of the overall population of the state according to 2019 American Community Survey data from the United States Census Bureau, yet Indian females represent 24% and Indian males represent 17% of the overall 2020 state adult offender population, including prison, intensive supervision parole, prerelease, and probation; and
WHEREAS, Indian youth are also disproportionately overrepresented in the Youth Court system, representing 14% of all referrals to a youth court in 2020, and in the juvenile corrections systems, ranging from 26% of the youth population at the Pine Hills Youth Correctional Facility for boys and up to 44% at the Five County Treatment and Youth Rehabilitation Center for girls for fiscal year 2020; and
WHEREAS, discrimination in our criminal justice system based on race, ethnicity, or national origin ("race" or "racial bias") has a deleterious effect not only on individual criminal defendants but on our system of justice as a whole. The United States Supreme Court has said: "Discrimination on the basis of race, odious in all respects, is especially pernicious in the administration of justice" (Rose v. Mitchell, 443 U.S. 545, 556 (1979) (quoting Ballard v. United States, 329 U.S. 187, 195 (1946))). The United States Supreme Court has also recognized "the impact of... evidence [of racial bias] cannot be measured simply by how much airtime it received at trial or how many pages it occupies in the record. Some toxins can be deadly in small doses" (Buck v. Davis, 137 S. Ct. 759, 777 (2017)). Discrimination undermines public confidence in the fairness of the state's system of justice and deprives Montanans of equal justice under the law; and
WHEREAS, even though racial bias is widely acknowledged as intolerable in our criminal justice system, it nevertheless persists because courts generally only address racial bias in its most extreme and blatant forms; and
WHEREAS, existing precedent may tolerate the use of racially incendiary or racially coded language, images, and racial stereotypes in criminal trials, at least until these remarks and language reach a very high threshold. For example, in a case alleging racially incendiary remarks by a prosecutor, Montana courts have held that "it is not enough that the prosecutor's remarks are undesirable or even universally condemned; rather the question is whether the comments so infected the trial with unfairness as to make the resulting conviction a denial of due process" (State v. Haithcox, 2019 MT 201, 397 Mont 103, 447P. 2d 452 (Mont. 2019)); and
WHEREAS, there is growing awareness that no degree or amount of racial bias is tolerable in a fair and just criminal justice system, that racial bias is often insidious, and that purposeful discrimination is often masked and racial animus disguised.
That the Legislative Council be requested to designate an appropriate interim committee or statutory committee, pursuant to section 5-5-217, MCA, or direct sufficient staff resources to examine discrimination in Montana's criminal justice system based on race, ethnicity, or national origin.
(3) review strategies used in other states and the federal government to reduce discriminatory behavior and decisions, including efforts to reduce disproportionate minority contact in the juvenile justice system;
(5) propose remedies to reduce or eliminate racial discrimination in the criminal justice system, including methods to appeal and seek judicial relief from decisions that may have been affected by intentional or unintentional discrimination.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the study involve stakeholders in the criminal justice system, including representatives of communities that could be disproportionately involved in the criminal justice system, the court system, law enforcement professionals, prosecutors, defense attorneys, the Department of Corrections, and the Montana Board of Pardons and Parole.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the final results of the study, including any findings, conclusions, comments, or recommendations of the appropriate committee, be reported to the 68th Legislature, each tribal government located on the seven Montana Indian reservations and the Little Shell Chippewa tribe, the Governor, the Montana Congressional Delegation, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs of the United States Department of the Interior.
New language in a bill appears underlined, deleted material appears stricken.
Sponsor names are handwritten on introduced bills, hence do not appear on the bill until it is reprinted.
See the status of this bill for the bill's primary sponsor.
Prepared by Montana Legislative Services