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.