Racism in the Criminal Justice System

The United States has come a long way since the days of Jim Crow, and certainly since the times of slavery. Nevertheless, just as we cannot wash away the stains these horrible eras have left on our national history, we cannot deny the fact that racism, whether deliberate of subconscious, still plays a profound role in the operation of our criminal justice system.
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To put it plainly, blacks in this country are targeted and punished fare more aggressively than are whites.

Our criminal defense lawyers know from experience (and from facts to be laid out in this post) that unspoken feelings toward race far too often govern the outcome of criminal cases; they influence the choices of arresting officers, the decisions made by the prosecutors and the verdicts rendered by the jury.

One first notices the racism in the criminal justice system upon a cursory review of statistics relating to arrests. The U.S. has seen a spike in arrests since the early 1970s, largely a function of the so-called “War on Drugs,” but those arrested have not and don’t necessarily represent a fair sample of those who are actually committing the offenses for which they are being arrested. Let us explain: while blacks and whites tend to violate drug offenses at the same rate (according to a report by the Human Rights Watch in May 2009), blacks make-up 37% of the people arrested for drug offenses, even though they only make up 13% of the U.S. population and 14% of montly drug users (according to testimony by Marc Mauer of The Sentencing Project.

Now, let’s move on to disparities in sentencing. According to a report by the U.S. Sentencing Comission in March of 2010, in the federal criminal justice system, black defendnats receive sentences that are an average of 10% longer than those given to whites who have been charged with the same exact crimes. Further, according to Marc Mauer, African Americans are 21% mroe likely to receive rigid mandatory minimum sentences than whites are, and they are 20% more likely to be sentenced to prison than are whites who have been charged with similar drug offenses.

As if the above statistics on sentencing weren’t scary enough,consider this: while blacks account for just 16% of the youth population in this country, they make up 28% of juvenile arrests, 37% of the youth detained by law enforcement, and 58% of youths committed to state prisons, according to a 2009 report to Congress.

As our Palm Beach and Broward County criminal defense lawyers know, the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution makes very clear that “no state shall make or enforce any law which shall … deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” Based on the facts set forth above, it is clear that blacks are being unequally targeted by law enforcement officers, prosecutors and judges alike; clearly, their 14th Amendment Right is being violated, as they are not being granted equal protection of the laws.

If the United States is to fulfill the goal it set out for itself over 230 years ago, to be a haven of equality, we must address the paralyzing racial motives behind many of the criminal justice practices in this country. Of course, not all law enforcement officers, prsoecutors and judges are racists; that’s obvious. Nevertheless, the fact that these statistics exist and that such inequality is rampant means that something — probably lot of things — need to change.

If you have any questions about this or any other criminal justice issue, please do not heistate to contact our Palm Beach and Broward County criminal defense lawyers at the Law Offices of Leifert & Leifert. To schedule a free consultation, please give us a call at 1-888-5-DEFEND (1-888-533-3363). We look forward to speaking with you.

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