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January 16, 2006

Should criminal justice reform be the new civil rights movement?

From my sentencing-centric perspective, reflecting on a day honoring Martin Luther King leads me to the view that Dr. King, were he still alive, would be focused on criminal justice reforms.  So many aspects of the criminal justice system — from racial profiling to jury selection, from drug sentencing to the administration of the death penalty — highlight that our system is not color-blind (or at least not color-neutral).  And, because of felon disenfranchisement and other collateral consequences, the enduring impact of a racially skewed criminal justice system cannot be overstated.

Of course, we have come a long way from Scottsboro (background here and here and here).  Nevertheless, potent report on racial inequities from The Sentencing Project (available here and here) and the posts linked below all highlight that we still clearly have a long way to go:

UPDATE:  Providing a fitting follow-up, Scott at Grits for Breakfast has this interesting post in which he details why "empirically," criminal justice is already a major focus at least of Texas' civil rights movement."

ANOTHER UPDATE: On this theme, a terrific North Carolina lawyer has forwarded to me a cert. petition, which I have made available for download below, that he recently filed in the NC Supreme Court assailing a sentence imposed by a judge who has repeatedly stated her view at sentencing that the commission of a crime by an African American defendant "disrespects " the civil rights movement and the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King.  In the lawyer's words, "It is a world gone mad in criminal sentencing for a judge to consider as an aggravating factor for sentencing that a defendant is black, in supposed respect to the memory of Martin Luther King!!"

Download sentencing_cert_pet_ncsc.doc

January 16, 2006 at 07:09 AM | Permalink


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You are exactly right! Having recently come from the trenches of indigent defense, I can only say that the current state of criminal "justice" disproportionately affects the poor, the young, and minorities. Since Dr. King is no longer with us, it is our duty to shoulder the burden and fight for reform.

Happy MLK Day.


Posted by: Laura I Appleman | Jan 16, 2006 10:50:44 AM

Did you say "sentencing-centric?"

Posted by: RLS | Jan 16, 2006 8:33:24 PM

RLS: I love coining terms. Does that one make sense?

Posted by: Doug B. | Jan 17, 2006 3:58:00 AM

I think you've committed the same supposed literary sin of which a reader accused me recently: Ne.O.Lo.Gism :-)

(To be fair, it's likely my commenter used the phrase more with the secondary "babblings of a psychotic" definition in mind.)

Personally, I'm not such a stickler, but I do think new words should be shorter, not longer, in keeping with Orwell's admonitions regarding politics and the English language. Best,

Posted by: Scott | Jan 17, 2006 10:26:25 AM

Oh, and thanks for the plug, Doc, BTW. Hope you had a great MLK Day.

Posted by: Scott | Jan 17, 2006 10:27:28 AM

Doug: Only in academia (as opposed to that world professors fear...you know...the non-MTV version of the "REAL WORLD."


Posted by: RLS | Jan 18, 2006 10:29:16 PM

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Posted by: | Oct 14, 2008 10:22:53 PM

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Thanks Guys!

Posted by: מוסך | Jan 6, 2011 6:36:27 AM

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