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Even though it has been on the decline over the years, there exists a variety of instances where race as well as social class has greatly affected sentencing in the American court. The country has made huge steps in ensuring fairness among the citizen regardless of the race or the social class an individual belongs. However, in the criminal justice system, United States has registered several cases in which an individual’s social class or race has had effects on the judicial ruling to date. For instance, Stevenson (2014) narrates the story of Marsha Cobley who delivered a still born but the pathology report was inclined towards killing to implicate the poor woman even before testing the autopsy. Stevenson (2014) also tells Jimmy Dill’s execution case in which never low social class had played a major part in his conviction. If Dill could afford to pay a descent lawyer, a consideration as well as investigation for his past besides his intellectual disability could have influenced the ruling positively. Even though many scholars have argued to the contrary, these instances holds in showing how much the US justice system is in compromise. Therefore, race as well as social class still affects the sentencing in the American courts today.
There have been arguments on how race as well as social class has affected the court ruling in the cases of some women charged with offence of killing their babies. Some of these accusations have been false with strong evidence in the defense of the accused. The case of Marsha Cobley is a clear indication of how social class influences sentencing in the American courts. If Marsha was from a high social class, the pathologist would have not inclined her report towards killing even before testing the autopsy because Marsha could be in a position to hire a descent lawyer to challenge the findings. However, Marsha Cobley was a poor white woman from the rural Alabama town who had limited exposure and had never been to New York. When she got pregnant, Marsha lacked the money she could pay for a doctor’s consultation fees. Consequently, she delivered a stillborn baby in a bathtub five weeks before her expected date of delivery. The family mourned the baby but a neighbor reported to the authorities that Marsha had most likely killed the baby. The authorities commenced an investigation with conduction of an autopsy. The pathologist however made an inclination towards reporting killing even before testing the autopsy and later citing the “diagnosis of exclusion” claiming that she was not able to find any evidence that pointed out that the baby was a stillborn (Stevenson, 2014). She held on to the report despite the many doctors who disagreed to her findings. Consequently, she received a life imprisonment sentence without parole. Owing to the low social and economic status of Marsha as well as the frenzy of the media on “bad mothers” at the time, the pathologist implicated her to have had killed the baby even though the autopsy results could not testify to the conclusion. Therefore, low social status influenced the ruling in Marsha’s case owing to the autopsy report.
Apart from the cases of “bad mother,” there are serious criminal cases that have been greatly affected by race and class in the American courts. Individuals have complained of how race and class have influenced these cases in which the defendant is at times clearly innocent. The case of Jimmy Dill is a clear indication on how both race as well as social class influences the ruling of the courts in the American criminal justice system. Apart from being poor, dill was an African American who not only had intellectual disabilities but also was also badly stuttered. He was accused of aggravated assault after shooting a man in drug-deal-gone-bad. The victim did not die immediately but later after hospital discharge when his wife abandoned him, probably due to poor care. Consequently, the state prosecutors changed Dill’s case from aggravated assault to capital murder (Stevenson, 2014). The judge assigned to Dill’s case did very little in preparing the case. Very little investigation was conducted to probe the cause of death. There was high possibility of poor care both in the hospital as well as in the victim’s home after discharge, as the cause of death. However, the court never investigated the cause of death. Consequently, Dill was sentenced to execution. Despite the execution stay request by EJI, the Supreme Court denied the request. If Dill had money to hire a descent lawyer, his case could not have been changed to capital murder. Besides, he could have insisted on investigations to ascertain the cause of death. However, his poor state as well as race influenced the sentencing in the court.
To the contrary, some people have also argued that no form of institution racism exists in the American courts as well as police departments. For instance, the New York police department introduced a stop and frisk program that has highly proven to be a perfect racial-profiling alarmism example. The program does not target a specific race but areas in which criminal activities is commonly rampant. Tuttle (2014) agrees to the existence of racism in the American criminal justice system but argues that it has been on the decline to non-existence today. The existence of racism in the system cannot be in a perfect demonstration as institutional as in the Jim Crow era. Therefore, no form of institution racism is in existence in the American criminal justice system.
Even though some people argue that no form of institution racism is in existence in the American criminal justice system, the sentencing in our courts is still influenced by race and class. The fact is evident in many instances like the case of Marsha Cobley whose lifetime imprisonment was a sentence that came about due to her low class. Likewise, the execution of Jimmy Dill draws much influence from his social class as well as race that enabled the court to change his case from assault to capital murder.
- Stevenson, B. (2014). Just mercy: A story of justice and redemption. New York : Spiegel & Grau.
- Tuttle, I. (2014). There is no institutional racism in our courts and police stations. National Review: Justice for the system