around the bar
August 4, 2009

Perception or Reality: Is There Equal Justice in the Courts?

The United States is a privileged society where our courts are fair and impartial to all regardless of race, creed or color—or are they?

Community leaders, activists and ABA members discussed this issue during the session, “Assumption of Justice: A Town Hall Dialogue on Color, Ethnicity and the Courts, Part II,” at the ABA Annual Meeting.

The underlying question is whether there is justification for lack of confidence that many minorities have in the judicial system.

Among the speakers participating were in the roundtable sponsored by the ABA Judicial Division, was Rev. Michael Pleger, a Chicago-based priest and noted champion for equal justice. Pleger said in American courts, “No longer does it appear to be who is right or wrong, but who can afford the best lawyer.” With the odds in favor of the “wealthy and guilty” and not the “poor and innocent,” Pleger said that minorities are justified in questioning the integrity of the system.

Another participant, Judge Mario Lopez, agreed that a disconnect does exist between the courts and the community. From the bench, he recognizes that language and cultural barriers are sources of frustration.

And while some roundtable participants were not sure about the reality of these barriers, all agreed that perception equals reality.

Participants agreed that most people have no idea how the judicial system works until they come in contact with the court system.  Minority community members are especially apprehensive, according to participants, because they often are unable to afford private legal counsel.

During a breakout discussion, participants discussed options to trials and sentencing that would increase community confidence in the judicial system.  The options discussed included alternative sentencing, community activities and mentoring programs.

Comments (4)

  • Love of Justice
    1:52 AM March 19, 2010

    Discrimination has been seen as one of the most costliest debts that America has paid, and failed to pay attention too, which has definately been a major contributing factor in the downfall of the American Economy…I am most prayerful that employers will wake up, an save the tax payers some funds..

  • Love of Justice
    1:59 AM March 19, 2010

    I would love to see our system truly correct it self…fall in step with the Innocense Project, wherein every state within the Union, would seek to review the first 10 sentencing disparity cases each year, to acertain that bias and prejudice, or even overzealous prosecution was not at play, a proactive stance that would correlate with The Innocent Projects mission, this would fairly quickly eliminate the overcrowding, prison budgets, and fragile confidence in the Judiciary. This would also help eliminate the common theme of injustice for litigants unable to afford private legal counsel.

  • Love of Justice
    2:07 AM March 19, 2010

    Perception really is reality, as a minority viewing the Justice System, It is overwhelming to even share yourself or concerns with an attorney, who may cut you off, if you share your perception of events according to your experience as an African American, Hispanic or Middle Eastern citizen, this reigns high, when the pool of attorneys are prodominately caucasian, The attorney may shortchange your story to accomodate his perception, which also may save him face…I have seen the strategy played out in my state, where in their are very few attorney’s who will even take a race discrimination case..which is another form of oppression.

  • Mark A Lyons
    6:23 AM August 8, 2010

    Are there any Citizen Advocacy groups that one could join that an individual could be an active opponent against Mandatory Minimun sentencing. I abhore what this does to the judicial system, the correctional systems, and the violation of humans rights.