The Michigan Criminal Justice System: Race Plays a Role

Many of us that practice law decided to do so because we did not want to deal with numbers. As any good criminal lawyer will tell you, numbers can be manipulated. Still, when statistics are clear, the court officers need to examine the numbers, no matter how ugly that may appear. In Michigan, we are in a time of crisis in our criminal justice system. With COVID-19 creating a new normal, we see time for a change. Sadly, one difference that is not present is the number of black men and women behind bars. Depending upon one’s political affiliation, a subjective slant is presented.  President Donald Trump has called for more significant incarceration while leaders such as Bernie Sanders have called for “Restorative Justice,” a term that is opened to interpretation. To understand the numbers, the issues, and the current state of events, we spoke to several of the top lawyers in Michigan.

Matthew McManus is the Managing Member of McManus and Amadeo in Washtenaw County, Michigan. McManus is known as one of the top legal minds in Michigan and provided insight into the numbers. McManus said, “The data is startling.  In our state, black people make up 15% of the population and 53% of the prison population at the Michigan Department of Corrections.  Whatever argument you make, the numbers show a clear problem with our system. Those numbers are hard to believe at first glance, but when you study the issue and break things down by county, the issue becomes one of tragedy instead of legislation.”

Jennifer Kelley is a Senior Associate for McManus and Amadeo and has built a reputation as one of the top family lawyers in Michigan. Kelley added to the McManus commentary when she said, “With a black population of 15% in Michigan, 37% of black defendants are in our jails.  While those numbers are disturbing, it becomes even more horrifying when you study the difference between prison and jail. There is a reason why the numbers are more disproportionately in prison than in jail. We have a serious issue that needs to be addressed.”

William Amadeo is a partner at McManus and Amadeo and is known as the top criminal defense lawyer in Washtenaw County. When asked about the numbers, an angry Amadeo stated, “Let’s talk Washtenaw. I would love Brian Mackie to explain why 13.8% of the Washtenaw population is black, yet over 70% of the criminal defendants are black? Luckily, Mackie will be gone soon, but what will we do to fix this problem? We see certain rouge prosecutors charging defendants when there is no evidence. Why is it that when a white person says they are a victim with no evidence Mackie charges, but when a black victim has evidence of abuse, he is not acting in the same fashion. It is disgusting what is happening in Washtenaw. It’s time for everyone to make up and work towards change.”

Nancy Eaton-Gordon is a top criminal defense lawyer that is a partner at Jackson Eaton-Gordon in Lenawee, County, Michigan.  Eaton Gordon added, “The numbers are disturbing. If we do not work together to resolve these issues, we will become more divided than we already are. We are in a time of crisis. In the advent of Zoom trials and national pandemics, the nation has had a lot of time to think while being quarantined. We have found that downtime is an array of issues that need to be fixed, and they need to be fixed now.”

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