Feb 17th, 2014
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Examine the laws discussed in Chapter 9, which protect individual freedoms and the implementation of criminal justice policies. Provide at least three examples of how the U.S. criminal justice system simultaneously advances notions of social justice, while also protecting the rights of the accused. Can the criminal justice system be more effective in advancing notions of social justice? How?

Your initial post should be at least 250 words in length. Support your claims with examples from the required material(s) and/or other scholarly resources, and properly cite any references. Respond to at least two of your classmates’ posts by Day 7, and use your previous course work and your personal experiences to either support or question your classmates’ positions

ASSOCIATED PRESS/AP Images Clarence Gideon’s case helped champion the Supreme Court ruling that mandated the right to legal counsel for all defendants, regardless of an individual’s ability to pay for it.

The Sixth Amendment provides that “[i]n all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusa­tion; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence” (U.S. Constitution, 1791). All of these provisions apply to all defen­dants in any criminal trial, on any level (local, state, or federal), and are intended to assist the defendant in a criminal trial, in order to ensure that a fair and just prosecution is obtained. The provisions are provided without regard to the individual defendant or the nature of the crime.

Several U.S. Supreme Court cases have clarified the meaning and interpretation of these provi­sions. For example, the provision of confronting witnesses was addressed in Kentucky v. Stincer (1987) in which the Court, explaining what is known as the confrontation clause, stated that “the opportunity for cross-examination is critical for ensuring the integrity of the fact-finding process. Cross-examination is the principal means by which the believability of a witness and the truth of his testimony are tested.”

The U.S. Supreme Court has also addressed the assistance of counsel provision, most importantly with the landmark case of Gideon v. Wainwright (1963). In Gideon, the Court mandated equality for all defendants, regardless of ability to pay for counsel, which means that all defendants in felony (later expanded to include misdemeanor) cases are to be assisted in their cases with legal counsel, even if the state has to pay for that legal counsel. However, merely being assisted by legal counsel is not enough; competency is also important. In Strickland v. Washington (1984), the Court further interpreted this provi­sion as guaranteeing the effective assistance of counsel. “Accordingly, when a lawyer’s performance falls so far below the standard of reasonable competence that the outcome of the case is likely to be unfair or unreliable, the Sixth Amendment provides a remedy for a new trial to occur” (Owen, Fradella, Burke, & Joplin, 2012, p. 224).


The appellate courts, which consist of a panel of judges, have been established to consider errors of procedural law in trial court cases. “The work of appellate courts concerns ques­tions about the interpretation or application of laws, not questions of fact” (Owen, et al., 2012, p. 321). For example, a convicted defendant may appeal, whereby “the appellate court would review issues such as whether he had a fair trial, whether the evidence was obtained legally, and whether the law has been applied correctly” (Owen, et al., 2012, p. 321).

Although the appellate courts are not seeking to determine whether the defendant actu­ally committed the crime, the process of appeal is equitable to all defendants, as these courts will determine whether any error of law occurred that had a negative or detrimen­tal effect on the outcome of the trial. In other words, as noted in Chapter 8, the appellate courts do not retry the case but rather look for errors whereby the defendant was not pro­vided with a fair and just trial. If the appellate court deems that no errors of law occurred, the trial court decision is upheld; conversely, the finding of an error of law will require the conviction to be set aside and the defendant retried in a trial court. Therefore, appellate courts provide equality, as decisions are made without regard to individual defendants or the nature of the crime.

An additional aspect of the legal system that provides fairness and justice occurs with the use of sentencing guidelines “to produce fair sentences based on legal variables such as offense seriousness and prior record” (Robinson, 2010, p. 92). Sentencing guidelines provide judges with a basis from which to determine appropriate sentences for similar cases and circumstances. This provides for a more standard and just legal system, while also providing future offenders with an idea of consequences to expect from engaging in criminal behavior.

Corrections and Equality

Correctional systems, on all levels, provide equality through various provisions of the Bill of Rights. Probably the most important provision of the Bill of Rights encountered in cor­rections is the protection against cruel and unusual punishment, delineated in the Eighth Amendment (U.S. Constitution, 1791). Correctional systems, which include probation and parole, are required to assess and impose punishment in such a manner as to be fair and just. With this, all inmates have the right to challenge the constitutionality of their confine­ment through a writ of habeas corpus. This writ allows for the court to determine the appro­priateness and legal grounds for confinement, thus safeguarding the rights of all inmates.

Another provision of equality within corrections is the classification system, which is a “spe­cific set of objective criteria, such as offense history, previous experience in the justice system, and substance abuse patterns, applied to all inmates to determine an appropriate classifica­tion” (Clear, Cole, & Reisig, 2013, p. 150). The importance of the classification system is for the correctional facility to identify for each incoming inmate the appropriate and needed services, as well as identify under what conditions, if any, the inmate will be housed. Section 9.1 Social Justice and Equality


There are numerous types of criminal offenders, all with individual and unique reasons for offending. For example, the mentally ill offender would need a different type of treat­ment program than a drug abuser or a sex offender, with the latter two needing still other types of treatment. In addition, the elderly inmate brings additional medical care issues that may not be found in younger inmates. By using a standard set of criteria, classifica­tion allows the correctional facility to equitably provide each inmate the unique services he or she requires. David R. Frazier/Stone/Getty Images Elderly offenders may require different care than is required for other types of inmates.

In addition, classification is also used to identify the appropri­ate correctional facility for the inmate, based on security level. Although classification has tradi­tionally been an important aspect of identifying program and treat­ment needs, “prison management still relies on continuing classifi­cation, which now focuses on the offender’s potential for escape, violence, or victimization by other inmates” (Clear, Cole, & Reisig, 2013, p. 376). In addition, to main­tain a fair and just classification, inmates may be reclassified at any time during their incarceration, which can occur, for example, at the completion of a treatment program or for any other unique circumstance that may arise.

According to the decision in Ramos v. Lamm (1979), classification systems must be “clearly understandable, consistently applied and conceptually complete.” As a result, objective classification systems have been developed to ensure that the classification and level of custody are appropriate. Equity-based models have been created that “use only a few explicitly defined legal variables reflecting current and previous criminal characteristics. Such variables as race, employment, and education are not used because they are seen as unfair” (Clear, Cole, & Reisig, 2013, p. 353). In other words, today’s classification systems strive for equity and fairness in order to ensure that all inmates are housed with an appro­priate custody level and are able to access appropriate services and programs. Section 9.1 Social Justice and Equality


Inequality in the Criminal Justice System

The preceding sections provide examples of how the various facets of the criminal justice system provide equality for all citizens. Although equality has been a focus since the founding of our country, the system has not always been effective at providing equality for all citizens.

Inequality in Law Enforcement

Several issues arise in law enforcement in regard to inequality. One of the most notable, with a history as old as law enforcement itself, is corruption. Law enforcement officers are required, by law and agency policy, to uphold the law, while being upstanding members of society. We look to law enforcement officers to help in times of crime and crises and expect them to be above reproach. We respect them when they catch criminals but hate them when they write us tickets. For many officers, this is a difficult paradox that per­vades every aspect of their daily lives.

Oftentimes, we forget officers are humans, with the same wants and needs as ordinary cit­izens. It is no wonder many officers find themselves tempted by corruption. While some officers successfully handle the temptations, many fall victim to temptation without a clear intention to do so. For example, the “slippery slope” mentioned in Chapter 8 sym­bolizes the notion that an officer can accept a seemingly innocent token of appreciation without fully recognizing or understanding the intention behind the token. The officer may believe that the convenience store owner who provides free coffee to all officers sim­ply likes the extra attention and surveillance that officers provide to his store and area. However, when that same storeowner is pulled over for speeding by one of the officers who frequents his store for free coffee, does the store owner expect a “favor” or special privilege in return? In other words, what is the intention, hidden or not, behind the pro­moting and providing of free coffee? Is it truly a show of appreciation and respect, or does it anticipate something bigger, such as the store owner’s expectation that the officer will return the favor down the road?

And where does the slippery slope end? If an officer is willing to take free coffee, food, or any other free gift, when is the line drawn? If an officer succumbs to the temptation of corruption, then those who provide the thing of value to the officer will begin to receive special treatment, placing all others at a disadvantage when law enforcement services are needed. For example, if an officer is “on the take,” and getting paid on the side for extra security for a certain area of a neighborhood, the officer is likely to respond more quickly to the individuals in that area than to others, creating inequality of services.

In order to reduce the temptation to corruption, all law enforcement officers need train­ing, education, and monitoring to ensure compliance with all laws and ethical behaviors. Steps to this end could include more ethical training in police academies and requiring officers to complete ethical training as part of their yearly in-service hours. In addition, more training for supervisors could be provided on warning signs of corruption and what to do to intervene before it becomes an issue. Officers are also bound by a Code of Ethics, which should be constantly and consistently reinforced throughout the officers’ careers. Law enforcement officers are human, with worries about family, bills, and other life stress­ors. Due diligence is required, not only to keep officers in line but also to help avoid any and all corrupt behaviors. Section 9.1 Social Justice and Equality

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