Monday, January 26, 2004

Justice Withheld

From the Miami Herald:

Odds favor whites for plea deals


Jared Smith, white, stabbed a good Samaritan who tried to break up a fight. A judge called the attack an ”isolated incident” and sent the 18-year-old Smith home without a felony conviction.

Edward Cobbs, black, also stabbed a youth during a fight. A judge convicted Cobbs of a felony and sent the 16-year-old to state prison for two years.

Neither teenager had a prior record two years ago when they were charged as adults, but their different punishments speak to a larger issue:

White criminal offenders in Florida are nearly 50 percent more likely than blacks to get a ”withhold of adjudication,” a plea deal that blocks their felony convictions even though they plead to the crime. White Hispanics are 31 percent more likely than blacks to get a withhold.

The disparity in outcomes has cost thousands of black offenders their civil rights, including the right to vote, serve on juries, hold public office, own a firearm. And the convictions carry an economic penalty: Felons can’t be hired for many government jobs, and they can’t apply for some student loans.

”Most prosecutors and some judges see the potential for salvation in a white defendant. With a black defendant, they see the destruction of a civilized society,” said H.T. Smith, a prominent South Florida criminal defense lawyer who is black. “It’s not conscious racism. It’s part of their cultural upbringing.”

Prosecutors and many legal experts say the disparity is pure economics: More white offenders can afford private lawyers who get them the break. But even when blacks and whites had the same type of attorney, private or public, the disparity didn’t disappear, The Herald found. An analysis of Miami-Dade County court data from 1999 shows that the disparity dipped from 60 percent to 44 percent when attorney type was taken into account.

Jurists also say that factors not captured in The Herald’s analysis — family support, job security, ability to make bail, appearances and the circumstances surrounding a case — could sway judges on whether to give a withhold.

Race, they insist, is not a factor.

Read the rest here.

Of course race is a factor. Whether it’s conscious or not, the fact is that if you’re black in Florida and you commit a crime, you’re going to go to jail; if you’re white, you get a plea-bargain and probation for the same crime. [tinfoil hat] Maybe that’s why the rich got the tax cut – so they can afford attorneys to keep their recalcitrant kids out of the Rebar Hotel (vis. The O.C.) and radio talk show hosts with an illegal drug habit can stay on the air. [/tinfoil hat]