DURHAM, N.C. – Seven years ago, Andrea Hudson spent 61 days in jail and never went to trial.
Accused of elder abuse, Hudson faced a total of nine different criminal charges. She ultimately pleaded guilty to one and the other eight were dismissed. In that time, she lost both her home and her job, an experience that affects her and her children to this day.
Hudson said some of the charges seemed redundant, such as assaulting an elderly person and terrorizing an elderly person.
“I believe that, when you're Black, they stack the charges and see which ones are going to stick,” she says.
Although North Carolina does not track the racial data of every arrest, it does track such data as it relates to traffic stops by police officers. Spectrum News 1 ran the numbers and calculated Black drivers are arrested at a rate 3.5 times that of White drivers.
The disparities continue into the courtroom. According to the NC Sentencing and Policy Advisory Commission, Blacks accounted for 48 percent of male felony convictions and 25 percent of female felony convictions in 2019, despite Black men and women each representing about 10 percent of the state's population.
Prof. Irving Joyner, of the N.C. Central University School of Law, said the arrest disparities impact the entire criminal justice system. When a person is arrested, a record of the incident is generated, creating a history of encounters with law enforcement.
Next, Joyner said Black defendants are less likely to be able to afford bail. This keeps them locked up longer while awaiting trial and makes them more likely to agree to a plea bargain rather than contest a potentially false charge in a trial. This, in turn, means Blacks are more likely to have a pre-existing criminal record, which can lead to more severe sentencing under repeat-offender laws.
“It's a kind of cumulative process that goes on that you can trace back to the over-policing and over-arresting of African Americans and other racial minorities,” he says.
Joyner said police officers have broad discretion when it comes to arresting a suspect. In many cases, they can issue a citation and court summons as opposed to making an arrest outright. He said studies show Black drivers are no more likely to be carrying contraband than their White counterparts.
Hudson had been studying for a career in criminal justice at the time of her arrest. Two years passed before she was able to get a job and a home, and that was due, in part, to her daughter's work after she graduated from high school. She said her experience made her realize how broken the system is.
She now runs a nonprofit that pays the bail of people held in the Durham County Detention Facility, so they don't have to pay a bail bond agency.