How Minorities Can Have Their Day in Court and Win in the American Justice System
The American judicial system was designed to be fair, guaranteeing rights to both the accused as well as the accuser. Although it is comparatively deemed as one of the best in the world, it lacks an obvious component: fairness, namely for the indigent, illiterate or ignorant. What this means is minorities usually receive “justice” based on the whims of judges, negotiating ability of court-appointed attorneys, dedication of juries or integrity of witnesses.
I recently went to traffic court and quickly observed that defendants had different outcomes based on their knowledge of the law, ability to retain an attorney and infusion of melanin. I was there because I forgot to go back to court after a minor accident, so I expected to be fined for failure to appear. I had no problem with this until I saw that even this process was based on an impaired system of fairness.
The two Caucasian men ahead of me told the judge contrived stories about why they missed their court dates. One man said, “I couldn’t read the officer’s writing on the ticket.” To that, the judge let him go without penalty. The other man explained that he thought the 11 in 2011 was the actual day of court, so he was simply confused. To that, the judge also released him without penalty. When I truthfully said I forgot once the case was rescheduled after the judge didn’t show up the first time, I was ordered to pay a fine or risk having my license suspended.
Similarly, a Caucasian man who had a seat belt violation said he recently had heart surgery, so the seat belt was uncomfortable. When the judge asked him to show proof of the surgery, he said he had nothing with him, but instead, he exposed a small scar on his shoulder. To that, the judge dismissed his charge. When another African American female explained that she was in jail on her court date, the judge told her to provide proof immediately or she was going to jail that day.
From criminal court to traffic court, capitalism and racism are polluting our justice system. Many people literally can’t afford to go to court because they don’t have the money or the social standing necessary to obtain fairness. That said, here’s my advice for minorities going to court:
- Hire an attorney (use a pre-paid, indigent or pro bono legal service if possible)
- Understand all your rights and options as it relates to your case
- Have something positive going on in your life, such as a stable job or school enrollment
- Find out how much the fine is, and bring the full amount to court
- Dress and speak like a respectable person
- Be prepared to file a grievance or complaint against those who abuse their power or violate your rights
Annette Johnson is the owner of Allwrite Advertising & Publishing and the author of “What’s Your Motivation?: Identifying and Understanding What Drives You.” Follow her on Twitter @AnnetteWriter