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And Justice or All

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America’s Justice System: Justice for All?
ENG122 English Composition II
Instructor:
August 26, 2013

America’s Judicial System: Justice for All? Law enforcement can be an admirable job for anyone who takes this position seriously. It is a job that has its rewards. Conflict comes to light when the differences of opinions regarding the disparities in the judicial system on all levels of law enforcement. Even though there are many whites that do not agree with the facts, the statistics show that African Americans and Hispanics are incarcerated at a much higher rate than whites. The judicial system in the United States has shown favoritism and bias towards white defendants, especially the wealthier white defendants for hundreds of years. There are racial disparities that burden our judicial system with the appearance and often the reality of unfairness. Visit any criminal trial in America today and you will see that the judge, the prosecutor, the court stenographer, the clerk, the bailiff, other various court personnel, the defense attorneys, and more often, the jurors are all white. One excellent example of these disparities would be in the recent “George Zimmerman” trial in Sanford, Florida a town who has allegedly had a history of racial violence and judicial disparities in and out of the court room (Maur, 2010). There are questions often asked, is there justice for “all” in our criminal courts and judicial system, and what is racial disparity? Some people say the answer to that question is no, the system is not fair. To define exactly what racial disparity is: it is a particular racial or ethnic group, within the judicial system that is greater than the portion of that group in the general population. Some people still feel that our judicial system is fair, even with the statistics that have been published. Challenging the racial disparities in the criminal justice system is one job that seemingly no one will actually take by the reigns and attempt to change or amend. One non-profit organization, known as the Sentencing Project, promotes sentencing reform and the use of alternatives to incarceration through program development and research on criminal justice issues. The Sentencing Project’s research focuses on and addresses the causes and consequences of racial disparities, as well as practical responses to these problems (Maur, 2006). Organizations like the Sentencing Project, believe the causes of disparities can, and are happening on all levels of the judicial system. The organization believes this type of disparity is the result of the differential treatment of similarly situated people based on race. Most minorities and some whites as well, believe that in the recent George Zimmerman trial, he was acquitted due to the racial makeup of the jury. He also had several family members working in the courts or in law enforcement that was brought out at that trial as witness testimony. In Florida there are only six persons to the jury and three alternates unless the trial is a capital case, as was in the infamous “Casey Anthony” case in Florida also. In each of those trials there was only one minority or person of color on each of those juries and none were picked as alternate jurors on either trial. Looking at the judicial system there are many indicators of the profound impact that the disproportionate amounts of arrests, incarcerations, and convictions have on the judicial system, however the disproportionate amounts and partiality has run over into jury selections as well. Most minority defendants do not have a “jury of their peers” as our constitution states we receive at trial (Maur, 2010). In looking at another well publicized case out of Florida, an African American woman was charged with aggravated assault after protecting herself from an already documented violent male boyfriend. It had been documented that he had violently kicked her in the stomach when she was pregnant with his child, forcing the child to be born premature. The perpetrator had also been in prison and charged with violent offenses against three other women. He had previously been issued a restraining order, although he showed up at the woman’s house anyway. After he physically assaulted the woman, she was able to break free from him, get her weapon and shot into the wall as a warning shot to protect her from any further beatings as well as protecting her three children. After being charged with aggravated assault, the woman was convicted and sentenced to twenty years due to mandatory sentencing laws in Florida. The real tragedy of this story is that this woman should not have charged, because of the circumstances surrounding the case. She attempted to evoke self defense through the controversial “Stand your ground law”, however her request was denied. During jury deliberations, it took the jury only twelve minutes to decide this woman’s fate. The woman was sentenced to twenty years for defending herself, and her children for firing a gun into the wall. Ironically, the prosecutor in this case was Angela Corey, the same specially appointed prosecutor for the George Zimmerman trial. When asked about this case, Ms. Corey stated that “There was no evidence that the woman was defending herself” (Maur, 2010). The question arises, asking if the justice system’s unfairness and bias comes because of a rise in the amount of crimes committed by minorities. Whatever the reason is and whoever is the cause for these disparities, there needs to be a mass over-hauling to the justice system and the way in which it has been operating, especially related to minorities. Since it is opinioned as well as statistically documented that most minority individuals are segregated, profiled into a specific categories, charged with crimes, given traffic citations, convicted and incarcerated at an alarming rate, an over-haul or make-over could help. And maybe satisfy some the individuals who feel the system has somehow intruded into or interfered with their lives via a family member, child, or even oneself, and been unfair to them in some way (Maur, 2010). In deciding that the judicial system is unfair or bias according to race, a New York state study found that minorities are charged with felonies while more likely to be detained than whites. The researchers concluded that ten percent of minorities detained in New York City and thirty-three percent in other parts of the state would have been released prior to arraignment if minorities were detained at a rate of comparability to whites. Thirty-eight percent of prison and jail inmates are African American, compared to their thirteen percent share of the overall population. Latinos make up nineteen percent of the prison and jail population, compared to their fifteen percent share of the population. According to the study in New York, an African American male born in approximately the year of 2001, has a thirty-two percent chance of spending time in prison at some point in his life, a Hispanic male has a seventeen percent chance, and a white male has a six percent chance (Maur, 2006). Many American people, who disagree about the disparities in the justice system, should be concerned as well as troubled by the rate at which incarceration has become a fixture in the lives of so many minorities. This rate of incarceration has had a dramatic impact and a profound effect with consequences for those children growing up in minority neighborhoods. These children see and learn criminal behavior making it practically inevitable that they grow into a criminal way of life. This rate of incarceration for children growing up in minority neighborhoods has had a impact on how they perceive life especially those who do not grow up graduate high school and move on to attend college to become educated. There are many non-African Americans who disagree with those that feel the judicial system in the United States is unfair and biased towards minorities, the poor and sometimes even uneducated persons as well. Some of those people who feel the system is fair may be those individuals who cannot relate to or identify with those individuals who wholeheartedly have been affected financially, emotionally, and mentally by the judicial system. There are a large number of upper and middle class, non-African Americans who are unable to see the disparities for what they really are. Many minorities claim that the disparities and biased views are racially and ethnically charged. Some disparities in the criminal justice system are in part a function of the relationship between race and class. This reflects the disadvantages faced most by low income defendants. Most can only afford public defenders to represent them in criminal cases, which are actually employed and provided by the state, which is actually prosecuting the defendant. This seems contraindicated and a conflict of interest as well. The public defender’s office, which usually overloads their attorneys with cases, has inadequate resources available to them, and some lack experience as well in the cases that they are representing. Another disparity happens as many legal advocates have pointed out, that sentences for minority defendants are unfair or biased as well. Basically we routinely overlook the fact that many convictions may fall under mandatory sentencing guidelines. Some of those guidelines hand down lengthy prison terms for non-violent offenders, who may have extenuating circumstances such as a drug habit, needing a drug rehabilitation facility rather than a lengthy prison sentence. Drug offenders usually get the greatest penalties if convicted of possessing crack cocaine as opposed to those possessing powder cocaine. Many states have taken an initiative to study the problem of racial and ethical bias in judicial systems, and some have begun to implement recommendations for changes. The New York State Judicial Commission on Minorities put it, “There are two justice systems at work in the courts of New York, one for the whites and a very different one for minorities and the poor or low income defendants (Iglesias, 2010). In their reports some of the disparities have been shown in bails, and who has the ability to raise bail and who does not. Many minority defendants serve their punishment time before they have been judged guilty or innocent because they cannot make the high bails that are set for them. The commission also stated there are disparities where minority sentences occur, and often receive harsher sentences than whites. And the ultimate injustice occurs to African Americans if convicted of capital crimes. Half of the defendants that are convicted and sentenced to death row, usually are awaiting the death penalty are minorities, most of which are African Americans (Iglesias, 2010). There is legislation called the “Racial Justice Act”, which allows defendants in capital cases to challenge death sentences on the bases of racial disparity. There are reports that African Americans are convicted of murder at a rate of eight to one, which out numbers the murder convictions of whites. And for some unknown or unexplained reason, the murders that are committed amongst African Americans are at a higher rate than those murders committed against whites. Armed with this knowledge and statistics, it is yet to become reality when and if the politicians and lawmakers will ever attempt to over-haul the judicial system in order to improve it’s functioning. As for now it seems that challenging the racial disparities in the justice system is one task that no one will take on to attempt to try and change or amend. In the state of Illinois, legislature has been passed that those who plead guilty are later barred from seeking DNA testing on the evidence in their case. The law is somewhat unclear, and those who pled guilty have little to no recourse for post-conviction remedy. The law has been interpreted in different and conflicting ways. The post conviction laws in other states are equally diverse and unclear as well for those who plead guilty (Stephens, 2013). There is Senator Shirley K. Turner of Trenton, New Jersey, who has put forth legislation where the expungement laws would be amended, so that persons with certain convictions can be expunged. However, according to Senator Turner, there has been little to no movement regarding the bill. As of this date the bill is presently at the state level. That means the bill is sitting on the Governor’s desk. This bill would provide the courts with the authority to grant expungements in certain circumstances where an individual would otherwise be disqualified under current law. The bill was introduced into the senate judiciary committee approximately February 2012. There has been no movement on the bill since then (Turner, 2013). Imagine all of the people with criminal convictions who would benefit from this bill if passed. They would be able to completely wipe their criminal records clean and actually have a fresh start, as far as employers and prospective landlords running background checks for past criminal records. It is said that a convicted person pays their debt to society after committing a crime through incarceration or probation. That person may end up spending a lifetime after being released from prison repaying that debt. Some criminals truly seeking to change their lifestyle after being convicted of a crime, and has little to no chance at all obtaining employment unless there are no background checks done. Being ineligible to expunge a criminal record stigmatizes those who may have only committed drug related offenses or non-violent crimes and desiring to sincerely change. There has been data generated by the United States Department of Justice that they project with the way current trends are continuing, that one out of every three African American males born today will ultimately go to prison in his lifetime. And one out of every six Latino males will be imprisoned as well. The rates for women are much lower than men, but there are similar disparities in the racial or ethnic makeup of those women who are arrested, convicted and incarcerated (Maur, 2010). The disproportionately high rates and disparities are influenced by sentencing and drug policies. Statistics say that in 2009, the incarceration rate (number per 100,000 population) among African American males was almost seven times higher than that among white males (4,749 African American v. 708 White) and the rate among Hispanic males was 2.5 times higher than that of white males (1,822 Hispanic). The rate among African American females was more than 3.5 times the rate of white females (333 African American v. 91 White) and the rate for Hispanic females was 1.5 times higher (142 Hispanic) than that among white females. Racial and ethnic disparities in incarceration rates have been significantly influenced by state and federal sentencing and drug policies (Maur and King, 2007). If the criminal justice system is to be viewed as fair, it needs the support and cooperation of the public. The perception or the existence of racial bias, or unwanted racial disparities as discussed in this article can reduce the public confidence in the judicial system, which in turn can and will affect public safety outcomes. One solution to combat the racial disparities would be an overall systemic change. This change would be impossible without informed leaders who are willing and able to combat and address the disparities at every stage of the criminal justice system. Practitioners, policymakers, and advocates in the criminal justice field have a duty to challenge themselves, and lead a national conversation on the role that race plays in the judicial system, and in the role crime and punishment. This would be an important step towards addressing the racial disparity that permeates our society. So in conclusion, while there are many whites that do not agree with what the facts are regarding the disparities in the judicial system, or what the statistics show, the fact remains true, that African Americans are arrested, convicted and incarcerated at a much higher rate than whites are. If we look at the way the George Zimmerman and the Casey Anthony trials ended up, both in acquittals, we see that regardless of what the actual evidence may be, that certain juries can and will acquit defendants based on their own beliefs and the way they perceive things in their own life. This is obviously true if we listen to the jurors that speak after acquitting these obviously guilty defendants.

References
Battaglia, N. (2012). THE CASEY ANTHONY TRIAL AND WRONGFUL EXONERATIONS. Albany Law Review, 75, pp. 1579-1611.
DiBiago, T. (1998). The Right to a Fair Trial. American Journal of Criminal Law, 3(595).
Iglesias, F. (2010). The politics of imprisonment. International Social Science Review, 85(3), 144-145. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com
Maur, M. (2006). Race to incarcerate. 2nd Ed. New York: The New Press, p. 13

Maur, M. (2010). Justice for all? Challenging Racial Disparities in the Criminal Justice System. Human Rights, 37(4), 14-16. Retrieved from http://ashford.edu (EBSCOhost search)
Maur, M. and King, R.S. (2007). Uneven Justice: State Rates of Incarceration by Race and Ethnicity. Washington, DC: The Sentencing Project (google.com search)
Quotas, J. a. (1995). Society. 32(4), 3-4. Retrieved from http://ashford.edu (EBSCOhost search)
Stephens, R. (2013, July 28). Disparities in Post-Conviction Remedies. Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, 103(1), 309-341. Retrieved August 10, 2013
Turner, S. K. (2012, 02 06). New Jersey Legislative Services. Retrieved August 14, 2013, from State Legislative District 15: http://www.njleg.state.nj.us…...

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Liberty and Justice for All

...* Liberty and Justice for All GEN/195 August 28, 2012 * I seem to use my reasoning skills (rationality) to determine what processes and systems should be put into place to assure fairness and justice for all the community (equality). Using reasoning skills and justice thoroughly explains why my personal preferred lens is the relationship lens. I seek to have relationships with others, especially the underprivileged. Great relationships are built while helping others who sometimes do not have the ability or resources to help themselves. * * My blind spot is overconfidence in a process. There is truth in this because I do overly trust in the “process”; the process of fairness. I do not like seeing or hearing of anyone being treated unfairly and it bothers me to find out that not everyone has what I consider to be valuable morals. Also, to find out that someone less fortunate or inadequate according to America’s standards (i.e.-financially, physically, or a minority) isn’t being treated fairly literally makes me angry on the inside. This ultimately causes me to fight harder for the process’s sake-fairness and equality for all; especially the underprivileged. * * It is comforting to know that my strength is justice. Seeking justice in the overall community is very important to me because it ensures that if everyone is all right in the community, they too will be more willing to reach out a helping hand as well. When the question is asked,......

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