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Race Bias in ND Courts? Panel Eyes Plan to Collect Data

The North Dakota Supreme Court soon could consider a rule change that would require state courts to collect racial data of criminal defendants. (Adobe Stock)
The North Dakota Supreme Court soon could consider a rule change that would require state courts to collect racial data of criminal defendants. (Adobe Stock)
March 10, 2020

BISMARCK, N.D. -- The state court system in North Dakota has never had a requirement to collect racial data of court defendants. But a proposal with the state Supreme Court could change that.

A committee assigned to examine the idea has been gathering feedback to see if state courts should record the racial background of criminal defendants. The driving question behind the effort is whether North Dakota's criminal justice system has any racial bias.

Rich LeMay, executive director at Legal Services of North Dakota, said he's not sure if there is, but the extra effort couldn't hurt. He said the move comes at a time when clients like those he works with are having a hard time finding good representation.

"Those individuals who ordinarily are the subjects of bias, whatever that may be, are going to be affected as much or more by things that affect low-income people," LeMay said.

He said his group, which provides legal help to low-income residents, has been doing this kind of work for years. Officials with the court system say the information wouldn't be openly shared with the public unless requested, or if it were included in a larger report.

LeMay said there was a housing case his organization worked on in the past that would have benefited from such information had the state courts been collecting it.

"Trying to gather that through what's been gathered by the court kind of prevented us from finding out information that we needed to go forward with the case," he said.

The committee in charge of the effort will examine public feedback during upcoming meetings before the state Supreme Court considers adopting the rule at a later date.

Disclosure: Legal Services of North Dakota contributes to our fund for reporting on Health Issues, Native American Issues, Poverty Issues, Senior Issues. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Mike Moen, Public News Service - ND