Currently, the War on Drugs continues to funnel minorities into our criminal justice system at an alarming rate, a major factor in the overcrowding problem in our prisons. Although the Fair Sentencing Act has contributed to the release of many minorities serving disproportionate sentences (and POTUS just acted on this, as well…get it, O!), sentencing disparities and selective enforcement have resulted in a detrimental effect on the minority population and the neighborhoods in which they reside. Blacks commit less drug offenses than Whites, yet Blacks are incarcerated for drugs ten times more often than Whites, evidence of continued racial discrimination in America’s courts. During the pretrial process, Blacks are detained almost five times more often than Whites, and three times more frequently than Hispanics. During plea bargaining, Whites are more successful than minorities in all areas, including having records expunged, charges dismissed, avoiding harsh punishments, and receiving additional charges.
Research shows that racial bias is evident at every level of our justice system, and that our courts are sentencing minorities more often, and to longer terms than Whites. The Eighth Amendment grants protection against excessive bail for defendants, yet for many minorities, the financial support necessary for release on bail does not exist. If a defendant is unable to secure funds for bail, they are detained while awaiting trial. Seventy-eight percent of defendants under pretrial detention are convicted at trial, as opposed to only 60% of those who were released while awaiting their trial. While considering pretrial options, judges examine such factors as employment, familial relationships, and community ties, all of which place minorities at a disadvantage leading to higher rates of conviction and incarceration. Hispanics are given the highest bail amounts, and Blacks are more likely to be detained because they lack the financial means necessary to secure release.
The Sixth Amendment to the U. S. Constitution grants criminal defendants the right to legal counsel, however financial means can weigh heavily on the type of defense attorney that represents a defendant. In America’s 75 largest counties, 81% of felony defendants are represented by public defenders or assigned counsel. Of all state inmates, 76.6% of Blacks, and 73.1% of Hispanics require appointed counsel, as opposed to 69% of White inmates. Relying on an appointed attorney may increase the likelihood of incarceration. Indigent defense offices often far exceed the suggested case load, while providing a mediocre salary to their employees and providing fewer resources for investigating cases than hired attorneys.
Imagine how these statistics impact defendants of varying socioeconomic statuses and races. Should financial status really be such an important factor in the outcome of legal cases?