Friday, November 6, 2009

Justice, Truth & recidivism

More and more so it has become clear that truth has no place in the criminal justice system. Defendants are regularly asked during their allocution, by judges, if they have been forced into a plea. All defendants are expected to answer NO, and if they do not then their allocutions are found to be insufficient and their plea is found unacceptable.

The power of the State to hold a Defendants person, coupled with the lax policy on the part of the District Attorneys office on most arraignments... as violations are handed out like bottled water, and pleads to the top charge, without any further punishment, places most defendants in a position that would be unreasonable for them to accept responsibility, even if innocent. An innocent man may be intimidated by facing jail time into an admission, all out of fear of facing the system. This is also greatly due to the unreasonable understanding most defendants may have of sentencing, and the charges. This, largely, is due to Defense attorneys lack of time and effort in ensuring that their clients are fully informed, as well as to the fact that in general our access to clients pre-arraignment tends to be severely limited.

The vast majority of individuals that are brought into the system are as a result of the fact that they are in an area that has a higher police presence, and as a result will continue to have greater police contact, and will continue to be offered lesser offenses at arraignments... till a point where there are various charges, and an individual now faces much more serious sentencing due to a more extensive record.

While many have argued a racial disparity in sentencing and in individuals incarcerated I would hold that the disparity is economic, and a catch 22. Living in lower economic neighborhoods leads to greater police contact and greater contact with the criminal justice system, the greater level of policing in such neighborhoods is due to increased activism due to fear on the part of the citizens living in poorer, higher crime locales... which in turn leads to the cycle described above.

While arguably our criminal justice system is designed to allow ten guilty men to go free so long as the innocent man does as well, the initial phases of our system ensure that all but a minute percentage of cases are disposed of before trial, and in these circumstances the overwhelming situation is one of entering a plea, as opposed to one of a dismissal.

Those in lower economic neighborhoods, as a result, are statistically more inclined to have longer criminal records. Individuals in such a situation tend to use a public defender, as given their circumstances they can not afford a provate attorney, and as a result they are not able to be given the same level of service due to the public defender offices generally being overworked, again due to the above described cycle.

While there can be no question that the current state of prisons would clearly show a racial disparity, i would argue that this disparity will be in a constant flux with the socio-economic evolution of who the lower economic class may be at any given point in time, and will always be reflective of such.

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