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Racial Profiling: Who Gets it Worse When the Gavel Comes Down?

Updated on June 10, 2016

Racial Profiling: Who Gets it Worse When the Gavel Comes Down?

As of 2013, there are over 1,617,478 people incarcerated across the United States (Federal Justice). Almost 50 percent of all males incarcerated across the United States are non Hispanic Black males (Federal Justice). Of all the ethnic groups, Black Americans, Puerto Rican Americans, and Native Americans have the highest level of incarceration (Federal). Laws exist that allow attorneys to pick and dismiss any jurors they choose before the trial begins. There is high number of cases documented when jurors are dismissed because of the relationship between their race and the defendant's race. In cases regarding drugs and other illegal substances, hispanics are sentenced the most. In cases regarding violence and abuse, blacks are sentenced the most. When hispanics face drug charges, they tend to draw more severe sentences than whites facing the same charges. Similarly, when blacks face violence charges, they receive harsher sentences than whites with the same sentence. Because of the high level of racism in the courtroom, there must be reformation laws of how jurors are selected, and mandatory minimums and maximums judges must follow in accordance to the offense.

There is a large history of minority prejudice in the United States dating back to the 1800’s. The oldest case on record was the Dred Scott case. Scott was sold to a man in New York and sued for his freedom on the basis that he had crossed the 36°30′ line (Dred). He was denied. This case began the uprising of abolitionists and civil rights leaders in the late 1800’s. This case and those to follow in this time period were of a different circumstance than those today. But the underlying theme remains the same- people are pre-determinedly judged by the color of their skin and not the basis of the case.

A case soon to follow Dred Scott in 1896 was Plessy v Ferguson. This very famous Supreme Court case established the principle of Separate but Equal in all courts throughout the country. This ruling by the Supreme Court gave people a legal basis for creating equal but separate accommodations for whites and blacks. This meant the regulations do not violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment (Plessy). Plessy was convicted because of his race even though he was only 1/16th black. The precedent that was set through the Plessy case was not struck down until Brown v Board of Ed. Brown v Board of Education integrated all public schools in the country, in addition to the Chief Justice recognizing that Separate is not Equal (Brown). Brown began a new era that did not allow for the legal segregation of blacks. This was the turning point pointed out earlier between these cases and cases today regarding prejudice in the courtroom. For the most part it was legal in these times, but it finally became illegal after this case. Blacks had to this point been regarded as unequal to non-black citizens, and therefore more practical to committing crimes and worth jail time. The stereotypes changed, but always remained present.

Sentencing prejudice and mandatory minimums causes more colored ethnicities to receive longer and harsher punishments than whites who had committed the same crime. Each race has a crime that it is normally suspected of and punished more for compared to….. Latinos are sentenced to harsher punishments in cases regarding drugs or other illegal items that are smuggled into the country (Steffensmeier, Ethnicity). Latinos are suspected of drugs and trafficking mostly anything. This can cause them to be thought of to commit the crime again even if it is their first offense. For example when other races are arrested for this crime, they may receive the mandatory minimum sentence. However it is more likely for a Latino to be given a longer sentence than the mandatory minimum when they are arrested for the same crime simply because the judge may think they will commit the crime again (Steffensmeier).

Latinos can also be more likely to flee whilst awaiting trial for their crimes. This goes along with the trafficking stereotype. Even for first offenders, non-gang affiliates, and regular citizens, Latinos are more likely to be detained than white or black defendants during their trial (Demuth). Another way judges discriminate against Latinos is requiring them to pay bail. This simple decision is not required for cases and is administered at the judge’s choice. This keeps them from being able to leave as they normally cannot afford the bail if they are not drug lords to begin with (Demuth).

Another prominent minority discriminated against is African-Americans. They, as well as Latinos, have a certain crime for which they are specifically discriminated against. African- Americans are more often given harsher punishments and longer jail time in cases referring to violence and illegal weapons (Steffensmeier, Ethnicity). Blacks are usually connected to violence- gang violence, domestic abuse, and murder. In these instances, similar to Latinos, Blacks are given longer stints than someone of a different race would who committed the same crime. In addition, race crimes are heavily punished. Evidence of black defendants on trial for crimes against white people receiving prejudice throughout their trial (Kleck). Recently, race crimes have been a significant issue. Data and analysis of current events on trials are yet to exist since the incidents have been so recent. When the data is on record and experts analyze it, it should tell a promising tale of how the events affect other people of the same race in the courtroom. Interestingly enough, whites receive the death penalty more than blacks on a percentage basis. This is because there is a larger group of blacks convicted of crimes warranting the death penalty (Steffensmeier, Ethnicity)

The mandatory minimums of certain crimes are not used and abused in cases regarding colored criminals. Most of the mandatory minimums apply to drug offenses, which apply mostly to Latinos (Caulkins). What is necessary is reform of these laws. Probable reforms will be discussed later, but to sum up, judges are abusing these minimums that are put in place for specific reasons. They are not meant to be ignored because of the race of the defendant.

Jury selection is biased based upon the race, sex, or crime of the defendant, and how the jurors will perceive the defendant. The prosecution and defendant can, for any reason, dismiss a juror and give no reason for the dismissal. In many cases containing race pertinent facts, jurors of specific race can be dismissed (Greeley). This issue allows attorneys to choose jurors who will be beneficial to them, and in some cases biased against their opposition. Attorneys have no laws requiring them to follow any guidelines when dismissing jurors (Griffin). Lack of guidelines means the judge or opposing counsel has any way of stopping the attorneys from doing what they please. In recent trials there has been argument over whether or not jurors have been dismissed because of race (Greeley). No lawsuits have gained any traction over juror dismissal, which has led to little reform in the area (Wooldredge). New laws have been proposed to change these rules and fix the juror problems, which would change the rules surrounding juror dismissal (Greeley). These new laws are extremely necessary and must be put in place to resolve this issue. It allows the attorneys to rig the juror in their favor and hurt the defendant before the case is even heard because of the jurors preconceived bias.

The possible reforms that can be implemented into the law system to fix the prejudicial issues are in writing already. They are bills and laws that have been drawn up and submitted and are ready to be put into action. New laws for how jurors can be dealt with have been implemented into the Justice System (Green). The laws implemented about how judges can proceed and how attorneys conduct the juror selection are not being taken as well as hoped. The process followed in courtrooms in very old and well liked by those involved in it. Many reforms have not been received well, and judges have not been agreeing with the new legislature (Greeley). Judges have been continuing with their regular rulings regardless of how they are contradicting new legislature (Green). The new reform laws have not been enforced by anyone, which is not putting pressure on justices to follow them (Wooldredge). New laws are in contention to be put in place as people suing are gaining traction over prejudice (Green). The reforms are not coming fast enough. As previously stated recent events regarding race crimes has put a very large issue in Judges’ laps. They have to make decisions that will affect the entire country, and some are using their personal bias against defendants. Attorneys are rigging the system, and this can no longer be allowed. Reforms need to be made, they are ready to be input and some already are. Now they must be enforced, and there is only one way for that to happen.

When dealing with criminals, there is one factor that is immediately evident and causes preconceived judgment before the trial. In order to correct this, the people in place who are able to make the mistake of judging a criminal based upon his ethnicity must be controlled and regulated. Judges cannot have as much power, because it can, and does often, lead to unjust sentences. They must be directed to follow mandatory minimums for first time offenders and even repeat offenders. Once these laws have been created, the court systems need to enforce these laws, not continue to act as they would without any new regulations. People need to be seen for their actions and behavior rather than their race. They must judged alongside everyone else because of their crimes, their priors, and their behaviors, rather than what they look like.

Works Cited

Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas. Supreme Court of the US. Oyez. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Oct. 2015. <>.

Caulkins, Jonathan. Mandatory Minimum Drug Sentences. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Rand Corporation. Web. 23 Sept. 2015. <>.

Demuth, Stephen. "Racial and Ethnic Differences in Pretrial Release Decisions and Outcomes: A Comparison of Hispanic, Black, and White Felony Arrestees." Criminology (2003): n. pag. Wiley Online Library. Web. 14 Oct. 2015. <>.

"Dred Scott Case." N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Apr. 2016. <>.

"Federal Justice Statistics Program Resource Guide." National Archive of Criminal Justice Data. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Nov. 2015. <>.

Greeley, Anne. Personal interview. N.d.

Green, Timothy. "Judges' Reactions to Sentencing Reform in Ohio." Crime and Delinquency (2001): n. pag. Sage Journals. Web. 9 Jan. 2016. <>.

Griffin, Timothy. "Judges’ Reactions to Sentencing Reform in Ohio." Crime and Delinquincy: n. pag. Sage Journals. Web. 22 Dec. 2015. <>.

"The Justice System." Bureau of Justice Statistics. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Nov. 2015. <>.

Kleck, Gary. "Racial Discrimination in Criminal Sentencing: A Critical Evaluation of the Evidence with Additional Evidence on the Death Penalty." JSTOR: n. pag. JSTOR. Web. 21 Oct. 2015. <>.

Plessy v. Ferguson. Supreme Court of the US. 1896. Oyez. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Oct. 2015. <>.

Steffensmeier, Darrel. "Ethnicity and Sentencing Outcomes in U.S. Federal Courts: Who is Punished More Harshly?" American Sociological Association: n. pag. JSTOR. Web. 14 Oct. 2015. <>.

Steffensmeier, Darrell. "Interaction of Race, Gender, and Age in Criminal Sentencing: The Punishment Cost of Being Young, Black, and Male." Criminology: n. pag. Hein Online. Web. 21 Oct. 2015. <>.

Wooldredge, John. "Comparing Between-Judge Disparities in Imprisonment Decisions across Sentencing Regimes in Ohio." Justice System Journal: n. pag. Taylor and Francis Group. Web. 9 Jan. 2016. <>.

- - -. "Displaced Discretion under Ohio Sentencing Guidelines." Journal of Criminal Justice: n. pag. Science Direct. Web. 9 Jan. 2016. <>.

- - -. "(Un)anticipated Effects of Sentencing Reform on the Disparate Treatment of Defendants." Wiley Online Library: n. pag. Wiley Only Library. Web. 22 Dec. 2015. <>.


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