|Convicted child molester Jerry Sandusky seeks appeal|
But surely even convicted child molesters deserve an appeal if some procedural matter.... blah, blah, blah? Alas, that's precisely my point.
How many of the dozens of blacks, Hispanics and other minority prison inmates who have recently been exonerated by new DNA evidence, were given the opportunity to appeal their convictions? How could legal mistakes not have been made in such cases where the evidence was faked, the district attorneys were corrupt, all-white jury pools showed bias, and the judges busied themselves passing around racist jokes from the bench? Or as is more likely the situation, criminal cases involving blacks and Hispanic defendants seldom even make it to trial.
A growing body of literature is beginning to identify shocking disparities in the way legal justice is meted out. For instance, African Americans constitute 13 percent of all drug users, yet they represent 35 percent of arrests, 55 percent of convictions and 74 percent of prison sentences, according to a 2000 study by the Sentencing Project. Few of these cases ever went to trial. Recently, I came across a thoughtful and informative study by Dr. Douglas Savitsky, entitled: " The Problem With Plea Bargaining: Differential Subjective Decision Making as an Engine of Racial Stratification in theUnited States Prison System". Dr. Savitsky noted that large numbers of black defendants are "found guilty" through plea bargains, which cannot be appealed. He explained:
". . . because a Black defendant is more likely than a white defendant to view the criminal justice system as biased against him, his subjective expected sentence is higher than that of a white defendant. That is, Black defendants will tend to be more risk averse than white defendants, owing to a cultural and historical distrust in the criminal justice system. Plea bargains offer a risk averse defendant a way to avoid extreme punishment, often seen by the defendant as inevitable, by accepting costs that are more modest."
In the 1991 book Presumed Guilty: When Innocent People Are Wrongly Convicted, author Martin Yant discusses the disparities caused by plea bargaining:
Even when the charges are more serious, prosecutors often can still bluff defense attorneys and their clients into pleading guilty to a lesser offense. As a result, people who might have been acquitted because of lack of evidence, but also who are in fact truly innocent, will often plead guilty to the charge. Why? In a word, fear. And the more numerous and serious the charges, studies have shown, the greater the fear. That explains why prosecutors sometimes seem to file every charge imaginable against defendants.
Who other than ourselves are we trying to fool by pretending that the criminal appeals process operates for the benefit of any convicted criminals other than whites and death row inmates?
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