Melba Ferlow- Herrington
Cultural Diversity in Criminal Justice Paper
This paper will primarily focus on racial disparity in sentencing. While studying the different problems associated with racial disparity we will also look at why racial disparity exsist within sentencing. In society today there are a diversity of citizens, offenders, and leaders within the court system. However, race still plays a big role in the criminal justice system especially during the sentencing portion of a trial or hearing. Although racial dynamics may have changed over time, race still exerts an undeniable presence in the sentencing process. “ This ranges from desperate traffic stops due to racial profiling to imposition of the death penalty based on the race of the victim and / or the offender” ( The Sentencing Project,2007). Here in the United States, African American criminal are over represented compared to this number in the general population. According to (Calderon, 2006) “ The idea of a racially discriminatory process violates the ideals of equal treatment under law as well as under the constitution that these laws were based upon.” Racial discrimination within sentencing is often a complex process in total connection with other factors which produce racially discriminatory outcomes in certain situations. Racial discrimination has been a big part of this country for a long time. And just because things have started to change does not mean that perception of the people have changed. The sad thing is people who are in a position to initiate a sentence may still believe this way today. The true analogy is the world may change but not all people want to change. Many blacks and Spanish descendants who do not work regular jobs may have this type of information used against them quite often at no fault of their own , but, as some folks say “ Never judge a book by its cover.” According to (Burnham,Sen, 2005) “ The compact for racial justice is a proactive agenda for fairness and unity in our communities, politics, the economy, and the law. It offers a concrete strategy and purpose to reverse racial disparities and move our societies toward full equity, cultural diversity, inclusion, and dignity for all people.” Having fairness and unity in our communities would be very good because people of all nationalities would begin to be treated with some form of equity. People in our society need to come to the realization that color is a skin complexion. Whether you are white, black, purple or green, color has not committed any crime but, in the eye sight of people how we look at people and their color will continue to make a problem for all in years, centuries, and decades to come. There are four reasons as to why racial disparity continues to climb in todays’ society they are Prosecutorial Discretion, Ineffective Assistance of Council, and Procedural Bars, venue and jury selection and racism by jurors. According to (Tabak,1999) “ these reasons apply in cases in which the death penalty may be sought.” When illustrating the use of prosecutorial discretion two crime types come to mind that can be compared they include white collar crimes and city crimes. When white collar crimes are committed the sentencing imposed are normally lesser than of those who commit a city crime. Some of the sentences handed down are unfair. An example of this is a person who are not honest about their taxes will make an agreement with the IRS who know they have committed the crime, and they will not spend any time in jail. Whereas, a person who were caught by law enforcement officers for carrying or selling a small amount of drugs would receive five years in prison. The crimes are both bad crimes and should carry the same type of sentence but, amazingly the two crimes do not carry the same sentence but, if brought before a jury both the crimes would probably get dismissed depending on the number of times the crimes were committed by the persons. Why do people who commit city crimes seem to be punished more harshly than of those who commit crimes that are equally as bad such as fraud, and as a result the crime may never step foot into a court room? There are several other reasons why these problems still exist. Racial Disparity is present within sentencing because of the way ineffective assistance of counsel and the procedural bars. The problem lies within the fact that “proving ineffective assistance of counsel is structured in a way that is extremely difficult to show that a lawyer is ineffectual”(Tabak,1999). A good example of this case where the defendant Johnny Lee Gates, the defendant lived in a black community all of his life. The defendant was accused of raping a white women, and the jurors listening to the case were all white. In this particular case the lawyer for the defendant should have objected to the jury that was selected for this case, nor should have allowed for the client to be tried by an all-white jury. When looking at the case more closely it was clearly shown that the lawyer did not care nor did the lawyer show any interest in his client’s case. In retrospect, the lawyer of the defendant had already agreed with the prosecutor that his client was already guilty. The next reason why we see Racial Disparity in sentencing is caused by venue and jury selection. The phrase” location is everything” can prove to be a very painful truth for those who are punished for being placed on trial in the wrong area.” It is not uncommon for prosecutors to choose venues for the defendants which result in all-white juries”(Tabak,1999). The second problem of selecting a jury especially in cases involving Afro-Americans defendants is caused by the lack of questioning of jurors. Jurors normally give a correct answer when they are being questioned to show that they are neutral about the case when in fact they have very strong racial feelings concerning the case. The thing that hurt most African-American potiential jurors is the fact that those who would never be willing to impose the death penalty and in cases of capital conviction would vote against the death penalty can be automatically excluded from the jury.” A large percentage of African- Americans are opposed to the death penalty, this is in comparison to the general public”(Tabak,1999). Discriminating against black American’s is not uncommon for prosecutors during their discretionary challenges. The power to use discretion can be blatantly abused by prosecutors. In the case of Albert Jefferson, of Alabama, the prosecutor in the case, used his discretion to oppose 24 of the 26 potential black jurors, which is wrong based on the fact that we as Americans are allowed to have a trial by a jury of our peers. The exclusion of all minorities in juries is a violation against a fair trial for the defendant. When a prosecutor use their discretion to oppose a black juror the burden of proving they discriminated against the black juror is left up to the defendant to prove. Since black potential jurors cannot be excluded from the jury because of their race, they can be dismissed because of their views of the death penalty. Racial disparity in sentencing is caused by racist jurors. Their was a case where the defendant was a black man by the name of William Hance. In his case their was only one black woman juror selected for his case. The woman was against the death penalty however, when the head juror read the decision he left out the black juror vote. Because the woman juror was afraid to say anything the defendant was executed before she spoke out about it. Racial disparity does exist during sentencing of defendants.” It is said that nationwide 90% of those who are convicted for crack cocaine violations are black” (Kennedy,1996). By punishing everybody the same way the racial disparity may subside . our society thrives on the sterotype that this should also be taken into consideration when discussing racial disparity. Society have made a prison or jail stay almost like an” obligatory stage in the life of a young black men” (Mauer,2005). This shows further proof that we “ choose to respond to criminal problems because we are racially determined. “ many people view crime in society as a black problem” (Mauer, 2005). Crime is not just a black problem but, is a problem that everyone must deal with. All of the areas discussed should be paid closer attention in hopes to help others in the future do away with racial and cultural problems in the future.
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