Racial Disparities in the Justice System

Table of Content

According to the USSC, African American males receive almost 20 percent longer federal prison sentences than white males (Simon, Scott NPR). Harsher sentences are given to African American males. They serve a longer jail time/prison sentence given by a jury, while white males tend to serve a shorter sentence, or none at all for the same crime. In this research paper, I will be discussing racial discrimination happening in our justice system. The Criminal offenses to be studied are: drug possession (marijuana, cocaine), murder, and sexual assault (rape). Twelve separate cases within six case studies will be compared in categories. The case studies to be viewed are: Case study 1: State of Louisiana vs. Bernard Noble and Gall vs. United States, Case study 2: Vandyke Perry and Gregory Counts vs. State of New York and

Juries and judges in the United States give African American males between the ages of 18 – 40 stricter sentences for the same criminal offenses than they do white males between the ages of 18 – 40.

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Unfair Incarceration

Racial disparity is one of the top 10 things wrong within our justice system. Studies show that racial bias affects human behavior and is surely amongst judges and lawyers. The most problematic sources of unwarranted disparity today are mandatory minimums and prosecutorial decisions and not judicial discretion. In 2010, the commission published an analysis of federal sentencing data, which examined whether the length of sentences imposed on federal offenders was correlated with demographic characteristics of those offenders (William H. Pryor Jr., Acting Chair, United States Sentencing Commission). In 2012, the commission released an updated analysis, based on the offenders, that were sentenced after the 2010 report. The most recent analysis was done in November of 2017 examining that race is one of the most notable demographic used. The Federal Defender Fact sheet suggest,” The Booker decision made the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines advisory rather than mandatory and therefore gave federal judges greater discretion at sentencing.

All three reports including the most recent, make the claim that the gap between the sentence length for African American and White Male offenders has increased following the United States vs. Booker case in 2005.” Racial disparities are even worse in southern states. According to the ACLU Racial Disparities Foundation, in 13 states and the federal system, the percentage of blacks serving life sentences is over 60 percent. In Georgia and Louisiana, the proportion of blacks to whites has exceeded 70 percent. According to University of Michigan Law school, students found that most of the disparities between black and white sentences can be explained by modifications in legally permitted features of the arrestee’s offense and the defendant’s criminal history. Racial profiling by police also plays a factor in the reason more black men are in prison generally. Jurors also play a major role in the way defendants are sentenced. Depending on if the defendant is black, the crime they’ve committed and there is an all-white male jury, more than likely he is going to prison or getting the death penalty. Depending on if the defendant is white and there is an all-white jury, the defendant is most likely getting the lesser sentence or probation.

African American men are more likely to get arrested for drug possession than white men are. Law enforcement officers tend to go into minority neighborhoods looking for black men with drugs on them, which if arrested, they usually have prior convictions on their record and if they plead or get arrested again their sentence is likely to be higher. In the court case of Gall v. United States, Gall was caught selling ecstasy while in college, he only received 36 months’ probation. The minimum for selling a controlled substance is 2-4 year in jail and a maximum 20,000 fine. A representation report recommended 30-37 months in prison, but he was only given probation because the District Court, though probation was serious enough. Imprisonment was considered “unnecessary” because of Gall’s voluntary withdraw from the conspiracy and post offense conduct showed he would not return to criminal behavior. In 2010, Bernard Noble was found with an equivalent of two blunts worth of marijuana and is serving 13 years behind bars with no chance of parole. Noble had convictions prior to his arrest in 2010 going back to 1989. All his convictions were small accounts of mostly marijuana, two times for cocaine. The courts used Nobles prior convictions to give him the maximum sentence of 13 years. Nobles’ case made an impact on the laws of drug possession, his imprisonment seemed unfair, especially since marijuana is getting legalized in other states. His lawyers and a few advocates kept pressing the courts because his sentence was too severe and was released on parole in April of 2018.

Many white men are getting convicted of rape and avoiding jail time. Black men get accused of raping women and usually go to jail without receiving a fair trial. We live in a society where white supremacy still lives, and if you are classified as white, you get advantages over those classified as non-white. The rape cases that are normally false are the rape cases against black men who are accused by white women. Vandyke Perry and Gregory Counts (black males) were convicted in 1992 for rape, sodomy, and kidnapping of a white women. The allegations were presumed fake, and they spent 11 years wrongfully imprisoned. They were released in 2001 and found innocent. During the trial, there was no evidence connected to these two men for rapping this woman, but that did not matter because the color of their skin. A white man named Justin Schneider plead guilty of kidnapping and raping a woman after choking her until she was unconscious. He was charged with four felonies and plead guilty to one in the second degree in exchange for a sentence of two years with the suspension of one, three years’ probation, and wearing an ankle monitor while living at home (Croft, Jay and Baldacci, Marlena CNN).

Schneider told the court he was grateful for the process and he has had a year to work on himself and become a better person, father and husband. The judge on the case accepted Schneider’s deal, basically giving him a slap on the wrist saying it cannot happen again and the judge’s decision was based on the prospect of rehabilitation. Comparing Perry and Counts to Schneider, Perry and Counts were wrongfully accused, spent 11 years incarcerated with no parole and no sympathy was given to them. In Schneider’s case, the judge’s emotion over took the case and the victim was no longer the victim. Another example, Cory Batey and Brock Turner were both college athletes, both accused of raping a woman unconscious. Batey (black male) was convicted of assaulting a woman, the evidence was clear that he was guilty. He had to serve a minimum sentence of 15 to 25 years in prison. Turner, as well was convicted of assaulting a woman, the evidence was also there that Turner was in fact guilty. Turner had an eyewitness actually see him assault the victim. He was only given a six-month jail sentence and told he could be released on good behavior in as little as three months. Also, he wouldn’t go to prison, he would just stay in local jail facility. The judge on Turner’s case felt like a harsh sentence would have a severe effect on him. Batey received the minimum sentence possible but it is 3000% percent greater than what Turner was given for the same exact crime (Daily News).

The People vs. Turner case was a major turning point in sentencing disparities. This case specifically broadened the fact white men are free to do what they want and not be correctly punished for their actions. Turner should have received at least the minimum sentence for rape, what he was given was not even the half of the minimum. Not only did this affect the rape culture but racial biases. Looking at Stephen Dalton Baril’s case (white male whose grandfather is the ex-governor of Virginia), was convicted of felony rape and felony sodomy later reduced to sexual battery and felony unlawful wounding, respectively. The minimum sentence Baril was faced with was five years. The judge on his case put off the charges and he will be on a controlled suspension for five years. In this case, the victim was a liar until verified otherwise. Marvin Lamont Andersons case tipped the scale of injustice. He was wrongfully convicted of rape in 1982 and was released 15 years later because his DNA was not a match. Originally, the DNA was not a factor.

The victim accused a black man of raping and brutally beating her. The police called Marvin to the local station for a line up because he was the only black man in the city who was known to have a white girlfriend. A lot of evidence pointed to Marvin, but this man by the name of John Otis Lincoln became a factor after Marvin’s mom hired a private investigator. The victim described that the perpetrator had a black road bike, Lincoln and Marvin both owned one. Marvin was put before an all-white jury, convicted of all counts and sentenced to over 200 years in prison. In 1998, Lincoln came forward confessing he was the attacker. The judge said Lincoln was a liar, it wasn’t until 2002 Marvin’s DNA was tested proving him innocent. Marvin’s case proves that the justice system only sees race, even if the correct evidence is being presented right in front of them.

Looking at the aspect of murder, black men will get a life sentence before they will get just a few years in prison. Kenny Veal was given a life sentence without probation, parole or suspension of sentence for committing second-degree murder of Roosevelt “Rooster” Stewart. The defendants’ reason for shooting Rooster is still unclear. The defendant received an additional 10 years for shooting his uncle in the face with a BB gun. Veal’s conviction serves justice because his victim was innocent. Comparing Veal to a white man named Jeffrey Zeigler is hard to do. Zeigler is a white, suburban man who shot 14-year-old Brennan Walker. Walker approached Mr. Zeigler’s home because he was lost and needed directions to his school. Zeigler claimed he shot the child on accident, but the video that was showed at the trial shows he purposely intended to hurt the young boy. Zeigler was convicted of murder but noted by The Detroit News, Judge Wendy Potts gave jurors the option of convicting Zeigler of a “lesser” charge. Zeigler faces 10 years in prison plus two years for possession of a firearm. Zeigler should have been given a life sentence, but the judge went easy on him because he “claimed” it was an accident. Murder is murder, whether it was an accident or on purpose and should be given the same amount of prison time.

If Veal would have testified his murder to be an accident, would he get a 10-year sentence plus two years for possession of a firearm? Comparing the two men race played a major role, from the standpoint of a black man killed a white man and a white man killed a black child. Another example is Michael Dunn pulled up on the side of a car and shot at some teenagers and killing one of the young men, Jordan Davis, because he thought they were “thugs” and “gangsters”. Even though Dunn was given 60 years in prison, it was not a life sentence. He can get out on parole, get probation or suspension of his sentence. The trial was considered “loud-music” trial because the young black men played their music loud, three jurors on this case said they believed Dunn acted in self-defense. The judge called a mistrial in Dunn’s case. Juror number 4 said to ABC News she feels like Dunn got away with murder. Black men do more time for murder because they fit stereotypes. Another example, a 16-year old rich white teen from Fort Worth, killed four people while drunk driving. He was only sentenced to 10 years’ probation. On the other hand, 14-year old Kuntrell Jackson was a part of a robbery where the store clerk was killed. Jackson was not the one who pulled the trigger yet was sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole.

Research Findings

Research shows that there is a racial discrimination among African American men in sentencing outcomes. African American males seem to get 90% harsher sentences than compared to a white male. Representation also affects the punishment of a white man compared to black men. Whites tend to hire private attorneys rather than court appointed and receive lesser sentences. Most white defendants get the option to get out on parole, get probation and/or sentence reduction and very few black men get that opportunity. The pattern that can be found is black on white crime is a life or a death penalty sentence, white on black crime is the minimum sentence or no sentencing at all, white on white crime depends on if the victim is male or female. The sentence will be fair for a man, but a female’s case is 75% of the time unfair. In black on black crime cases, the defendant and the victim are in the wrong. Younger white men, ranging from the age 17-20, are more likely to have little to no prison time compared to younger black man around the same age.

Racial profiling and stereotyping of black men is a factor of why they tend to get arrested more frequently than a white man. Black arrestees are also irrationally concentrated in federal districts that have higher sentences in general. The University of Michigan Law students guesstimate that sentence inequality conditions on the reasonable sentence or other features of the crime of conviction are problematic because those measures are determined through discretionary processes and negotiations that may contain racial disparities. By focusing on the judge’s final sentencing decision in isolation, the present observed works has ignored the role of prosecutors, whose decisions greatly shape sentences. Prosecutors enjoy the ability to choose charges and to negotiate plea agreements, which often include stipulations of the facts on which sentences, and probable sentences are based. Studies confirm that African American males between 18-40 receive harsher sentences than white males between the ages of 18-40.


Comparing the two races and the various crimes that have been committed, white men are always going to get the upper hand because they are white. All the cases explained a pattern that has been happening and still occurring. The system has been working this way since slaves were freed. The white man tries to keep the black man down. The justice system may think they have done a good job with getting rid of injustice, but racism within in the justice system still lives. Emotions play a role in white men cases and color plays a role in black men cases, why not the same? Black men get treated unfairly because of stereotyping. The justice system feels like all black men are “thugs” or “gangsters”, untrustworthy and evil so what they are accused of is what happened. Innocent until proven guilty does not affect a black man’s world, your guilty until proven innocent. I’m not arguing all black men are innocent, but that white men should get the same treatment as your average black man.

Working Bibliography

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Racial Disparities in the Justice System. (2021, Oct 14). Retrieved from


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