Criminal Justice System Lives
“Do you think the Criminal Justice System lives up to the legitimacy of its name? The Criminal Justice System is the system of law enforcement that is directly involved in apprehending, persecuting, defending, sentencing, and punishing those who are suspected or convicted of criminal offences (Dictionary). Yet, according to the Chicago Tribune, there is anywhere from 46-230 thousand innocent people in prison (Grisham 1). Throughout history we see time and time again that everyone is not treated equally. We live in a world where at times the color of our skin determines our lives or our potentials. This system needs to find a way to balance protecting the innocent that are suspected to be guilty and punishing those who are guilty. The Criminal Justice System is unjust because race and class play a role in accusations, arrests, and convictions.
Race is one of many components that play a big role in the Criminal Justice System. One example being the case of Kevin Cooper. Cooper was a twenty-two-year-old man who was convicted of a quadruple murder in 1983. Minimal evidence was found at the scene, only a single drop of blood and a bloody shoe print. At Cooper’s trial, his attorneys argued that, “the San Bernardino County (SBC) Sheriff’s Department has destroyed or suppressed evidence suggesting the attackers were three white men, including a convicted contract killer.” Coopers DNA was then found on a bloody shirt near the home, as well as two cigarette butts found inside the family’s car. Later tests showed that Cooper’s blood contained a large amount of EDTA, which is a chemical used to preserve blood samples in police labs. This led Coopers attorney to argue that Kevin had been framed, but the SBC denied it (Tchekmedyian 1). Though there is concrete evidence that Cooper did not commit the crime, like the only eye witness stating that Cooper was not the killer, he has been in prison for over almost 40 years. African-American men and women do not get fair treatment when it comes to convictions and sentencing. A study from the Michigan State University College of Law showed that African American prisoners are almost 50% more likely to be innocent if they were convicted of Murder (“African Americans…”). With this evidence we see that race does in fact play a role in convictions.
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Racial profiling and racial bias have both been found to influence the behavior of police. Racial profiling is the use of race or ethnicity as grounds for suspecting someone of an offense (Dictionary). Racial bias is the attitudes or stereotypes that affect an individual’s understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner (Dictionary). Examples of this are seen in the many fatal interactions between police officers and people of color. Take Michael Brown, Tamir Rice and Laquan McDonald. All three of these young men were African-Americans that were killed during fatal interactions with those who are sworn to serve and protect. We can take into account that in crime shows and the news, that investigations into police who’ve killed people of color, rarely favor the victim. Racial profiling is dangerous because it could cause an assumption that people of color are more dangerous than those who are Caucasian. The reality is anyone could be dangerous. Take Nikolas Cruz for example, on February 14th, 2018, nineteen-year-old Nikolas Cruz killed seventeen people in a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida (Smith 14). Cruz is a white male and he had the power to kill seventeen people and injure over a dozen more. Anyone can be dangerous, or cause harm to others despite their color, religion, age, or gender.
According to the 2018 NAACP Death Penalty Fact Sheet, “13% of the population is black, yet they make up 42% of death row inmates and 35% of those who have been executed on death row…Research further showed that almost 50% of white criminals were able to have their sentences lessened from death through plea bargaining” (“NAACP Death Penalty Fact Sheet”). A plea bargain is an agreement between the prosecutor and the defendant, where the defendant pleads guilty to a charge less serious in exchange for a lighter sentence (Dictionary). This shows that Caucasians can get out of longer sentences while African Americans tend not to.
Within the criminal justice system, sentencing is also influenced my race. Studies show that judges that chose the prison sentences are less likely to be changed/or lessened for African-Americans than for white offenders. It was also found that “giving judges more discretion in sentencing…allows more racial bias to seep into the process.” This shows that Later studies showed that African-Americans had a 75% greater chance of getting a mandatory minimum sentence than white offenders (Ingraham 1).
Class plays a big role in the Criminal Justice System. Evidence of class playing a role is seen in the case of Jason Van Dyke. In October of 2014, Officer Van Dyke shot and killed African American teenager Laquan McDonald, sixteen shots were fired into the seventeen-year old (Babwin and Tarm ). Though prosecutors suggested that Van Dyke be sentenced to ninety-six years in prison for all the charges, the judge sentenced him to nearly seven years. Another Case where class plays a role is the case of Brock Turner a former swimmer from Stanford University. In January of 2015, witnesses saw Turner raping a woman behind a dumpster while she was unconscious. During the trial, he blamed this act on alcohol and promiscuity. Turner was sentenced to six months in jail, of which he only served three months (Kebodeaux 30-45). Though there were witnesses and physical evidence of the crime, his privilege allowed him to receive a light sentence. In a statement written by Turner’s father, he states that his son’s life has been ruined for “20 minutes of action” (Stack). Mr. Turner did not believe his son should have gotten time in jail and believes his son should not have to register as a sex offender. On the other hand, people all over the world were upset at how little of time he was sentenced.
Whereas in 2016, former University of Kansas (KU) student Albert N. Wilson went to a bar where he met a girl (white), they were both under 21 and intoxicated. A little while later Wilson and the girl went back to his apartment that was in walking distance from the bar. Later the girl claimed Wilson had raped her. Wilsons DNA was only found on the girl’s chest and no seminal fluid was found. After a 6-hour deliberation, Wilson was sentenced to 12 years in prison by an all-white, mainly female jury (“Albert Wilson Rape Case”). Though there was no evidence that Wilson raped the girl, he was still sentenced to 12 years in prison. While Brock Turner on the other had was caught in the act and was only sentenced to 6 months in prison. This is a great example on how race and privilege plays a role in the criminal justice system. These findings show that privileged Americans have more advantages than those who are not. This leads to mass incarceration of underprivileged Americans.
Some believe that all criminals have served/are serving sentences appropriate for their crimes. Though that might be true for mass murderers that are spending the rest of their lives in prison like Nikolas Cruz, whereby other criminals are serving short sentences for serious crimes and/or are being released early for “good behavior.” Rapists like Brock Turner get to walk free because “a prison sentence would have a severe impact on him” and the judge believed he wouldn’t be a harm to others (Paiella 1). Where was this compassion and leniency when the judge sentenced Albert Wilson? Although rapists walking free may be a concern to only a small group of people who believe that the victim is to blame, it should in fact concern anyone who cares about the lives of innocent victims. Victims of rape live in fear of their rapists coming back for them, because they reported their assailant and either did not receive time or they served a minimal sentence, which means they will be soon free.
Others might argue that race and class do not play a role in the Criminal Justice System and that the system is not broken. Race does not just play a role in court cases, but also in picking jurors as well as traffic stops. In The Stanford Open Policing Project, studies showed that African- American drivers were 20% more likely to be given a ticket after being pulled over by the police. As well as they are twice as likely to be searched (“The Stanford Open Policing Project”). These statistics suggests that people of color are treated defiantly during traffic stops rather than those who are white. Aside from traffic stops, race also plays a role in jury selection. Taking Michael Brown’s case into consideration, choosing a jury that was biased would cause the charges to be decided unfairly. In an article by Peter A. Joy and Kevin C. McMunigal, research into jury trials demonstrates that “all-white juries convict African-American defendants more often than white defendants…Racial discrimination in jury selection undermined public perceptions of fairness in the criminal justice system” (Joy and McMunigal, 43). This shows that race does play a role in accusations and convictions because studies show that African Americans get treated differently. An African-American who committed the same crime as a Caucasian is more likely to be convicted and sentenced to longer time in prison.
Race and privilege play a huge role in the way the Criminal Justice System handles accusations, arrests, convictions and sentencing. African-Americans are facing longer, more harsh sentences, and are even being wrongly convicted, while Caucasians are receiving minimal sentences for crimes that deserve longer sentences. There are many calls to action that can be done to change these injustices, but it is going to take a long time before a change can be seen. If we do not change, innocent people will continue to go to prison and privileged Americans will continue to get away with crimes. As well as, African Americans will continue to be treated unfairly. The color of our skin should not determine how we are treated when it comes to the criminal justice system.”