David race and class disparities, the privileged among
David Cole wrote, “our criminal justice system affirmatively depends on inequality” (5).
Cole has substantial grounds for making this statement. Race and class have long been issues in the criminal justice system, but does the system “affirmatively depend on inequality?” Does the criminal justice system depend on the disparities of the people that it serves? American justice is supposed to be blind. Despite this there have been many disparities in the justice system due to racial, social class, and economic reasons. “Absent race and class disparities, the privileged among us could not enjoy as much constitutional protection of our liberties as we do” (Cole 5).
The case of Gideon v. Wainwright can be used to illustrate this point. Cole summarizes the case:Clarence Earl Gideon, a penniless Florida man, down on his luck and charged with breaking and entering a poolroom, claims that although he cant afford a layer, he has a constitutional right to have a lawyer appointed by the state to defend him. When the Florida trial court denies his request, Gideon represents himself, and is convicted. From prison, Gideon sends a hand-written note to the Supreme Court asking it to hear his case. Abe Fortas is appointed to argue Gideons case, and then the Court rules that the Sixth Amendment guarantees indigent defendants the assistance of a lawyer in all serious criminal trials. On retrial, with a lawyer paid for by the states, Gideon is acquitted.
(63)The Gideon v. Wainwright may not appear to support the previous statement: “Absent race and class disparities, the privileged among us could not enjoy as much constitutional protection of our liberties as we do” (Cole 5). The outcome of Gideon requires government to provide a lawyer to a defendant, “but as long as the state provides a warm body with a law degree and a bar admission, little else matters” (Cole 64). Even though the state provides indigent defense counsel, most are “underpaid, overworked, and given insufficient resources to conduct an adequate investigation and defense” (Cole 84). Cole states that in 1990, “the national average per capita spending on local and state indigent defense was $5.37” (84).
Cole also points out other facts about the ruling in Gideon v. Wainwright:One of the most remarkable facts about the constitutional right declared in Gideon v. Wainwright is that it was not a constitutional right for the first 184 years of our Constitution. The Sixth Amendment guarantees that In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the rightto have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense. But for most of our history, this right applied only to the approximately 10 percent of criminal trials that take place in federal court, and even there is meant only that defendants who had the money to do so could hire and attorney to defend them. (65)What this establishes is the inequalities of defense in the legal system.
Those defendants that cannot provide their own council are at a disadvantage since the council they are appointed is often inadequate. The judicial system has come to rely on this fact to produce convictions.The affirmative dependence of our justice system on inequality can be illustrated another way.
If our justice system were based on equality, then the reversal of racial and social roles would not affect the system. But the system is dependent on inequality, Cole shows this:Imagine what kind of pressure legislatures would feel, for example, if one in three young white men were in prison or on probation or parole. Imagine what the politics of the death penalty would look like if prosecutors sought the death penalty 70 percent of the time when whites killed blacks, but only 19 percent of the time when blacks killed whites.
Or imagine what our juvenile justice policies would be like if white youth charged with drug offenses were four times as likely as black youth to be tries as adults, and twice as likely to be placed outside the home. On this is certain: the nation would not accept such a situation as inevitable. (151) Cole illustrates how our judicial system is dependent on inequality. Cole brings to our realization that if the roles of inequality were reversed, the judicial system would change drastically and in doing so would point out its own dependence on those inequalities.The inequalities of the justice system can also be shown in the evolution of laws.
When laws begin to affect large numbers of white middle- and upper-class people, the laws begin to change. An example would involve the spread of marijuana use. Strict laws of the early and middle part of this century prohibiting the use of marijuana were imposed because the majority of users were lower-class minorities.
But during the 1960s and 1970s, the use of marijuana spread though the youth of white middle- and upper-class America (Cole 152). This spurred changes in the judicial system to ease the laws affecting marijuana use. Cole summarizes the situation: “When the effects of a criminal law reach the sons and daughters of the white majority, our response is not to get tough, but rather to get lenient” (153). The American justice system has never been truly equal because it has always depended on inequalities. The system could easily be changed to eliminate those inequalities, but that will not likely happen. So long as there is a majority dependent on the disparities of a minority, the system will maintain its current sanctity.
In doing so, the system will affirm its dependence on inequality.Works CitedCole, David. No Equal Justice: Race and Class in the American Criminal Justice System. New York: The New Press, 1999.