According to the United States Constitution, the sixth amendment provides citizens with the right to a “speedy and public trial” accompanied by “legal counsel”. When being tried by a jury, there are many legal factors being accounted for. But, in “Race, Socioeconomic Status and Sentencing in the Juvenile Justice System”, Terrence B. Thornberry, Ph.D. in criminal justice, claims there are two extralegal factors contributing to sentencing within the juvenile system: race and socioeconomic status. Furthermore, in “Unfair by Design: The War on Drugs, Race, and the Legitimacy of the Criminal Justice System,” Lawrence D. Bobo and Victor Thompson, Ph.D. in social sciences, states only 28% of blacks feel they were treated with equality within the courts and perceived the system as racially biased, which ultimately calls the justness of the system into question. Therefore, it has been noticed that socioeconomic status (SES) factors into conviction rates along with other extralegal factors.
Taken these claims into account, the question of to what extent low socioeconomic status impact conviction rates arose. Socioeconomic status has been a determining variable in conviction rates. Jeffrey Benedict and Alan Klein, experts in criminal law, discuss sexual assault and conviction rates of professional male athletes, claiming they’re less likely to be convicted. The two concluded that of the 217 cases examined, 172 athletes were arrested and only 10 were convicted while no action was taken for 45 of the cases (Benedict and Klein, p. 89). Therefore, defendants of higher social status have accessibility to resources, as they can afford a skilled attorney resulting in the women being exploited by the system (Benedict and Klein, p. 92).
Often, victimizing the athlete as a target and the accuser being labeled as “attention hungry,” resulting in more sympathy from jurors. According to Paul D. Butler, Ph.D. in law, a person of low SES is more likely to be imprisoned due to a highly selective justice system targeting those with fewer resources (2178). Butler states that more than half of the prisoners in 2005 reported an annual income of $12,000 and about a 25% unemployment rate, suggesting the reason for poor people being incarcerated a higher is to do a societal “sweep” of low SES individuals (2181). Stewart J. D’Alessio and Lisa Stolzenberg, Ph.D. in criminology, claim SES did not impact the conviction of individuals because there is not enough “offense specific evidence” (D’Alessio and Stolzenberg, p. 75). However, more “offense specific evidence” was provided by Thornberry, investigating the relationship of race, SES, and conviction rates showing that differing SES with similar crime history and offense resulted in higher conviction rates for youth of lower SES. Thus, socioeconomic status plays a role in conviction rates.
While examining the impact of SES on conviction rates, race was a transparent variable. According to Thornberry, black youth of lower SES were convicted at higher rates in comparison with the white youth while committing the same offense with the same criminal history (Thornberry, p. 96). Thornberry concluded that “... nonlegal variables are still related to the severity of the dispositions received,” due to members of minority groups with restricted economic accessibility being viewed as “scapegoats of the frustrated police in our local communities” (p. 90). Hence, blacks are incarcerated at higher rates due to racially biased law enforcement looking to decrease crime.
Similarly in a study conducted by Cynthia Willis Esqueda, Ph.D. in social psychology, in a cross-cultural examination of racial bias within a white jury, a low SES Hispanic was given a lengthier sentence and held accountable for a crime whereas a Hispanic of higher SES was not ( Esqueda et al., p. 181). When the defendant was white and the jury was made up of Hispanics, Esqueda concluded there was no bias among the jury (p. 184). Such convictions occur as a result of the negative stereotypes of Hispanics producing biased jury verdicts ( Esqueda et al., p. 183). According to Thomas M. Arvanitis and Martin A. Asher, Ph.D. in sociology, the reason why minorities are incarcerated at higher rates is due to their likeness of committing crimes due to their low socioeconomic status. However, according to Albert J. Meehan and Michael C. Ponder, Ph.D. in sociology, the reason for minorities being incarcerated at higher rates is due to the fact they’re more likely to be racially profiled because of discriminatory police and convicted due to racial biased. Thus, racial disparities relating to SES are notable within the justice system and have a direct correlation with conviction rates.
It has been apparent that the upbringing of a low SES child correlates with violent futures. Depending on the community and surroundings, youth can be heavily influenced. For example, Noni K. Gaylord-Harden, Ph.D. in psychology, states that in places more prone to crimes such as shootings or stabbings, generally black communities, youth is more likely to be desensitized to the thought, even normalizing it ( Gaylord-Harden et al., p. 1). Hence, exposure to such violence at a young age contributes to higher conviction rates within communities of low SES and likeliness of committing the same crime during adulthood due to the numbness of the extremeness of the crime.
Likewise, according to Joan McCord, Ph.D. in criminology, the absence of parents within low SES families due to working multiple jobs calls for juvenile delinquency, resulting in adult criminal behavior (McCord, p. 397). Thus without parental guidance, a child is more likely to be influenced by the wrong crowd or have poor decision-making skills. McCord also states children in homes where alcoholism is an issue tend to grow up with less guidance, therefore also resulting in less parental guidance which leads to criminal behavior in the future (p. 400). Indicating low SES in childhood upbringing results in higher conviction rates. Olena Antonnicio and Charles R. Tittle, Ph.D. in sociology, claim criminal behavior is due to a lack of morality (Antonnicio and Tittle 1). But according to McCord, the influence of children at an extremely young age completely overcomes the morality factor of crimes, as they've already become numb and used to crime (McCord, 400). Thus, the impact of crime children of low SES are exposed to results in the likeliness of adulthood criminality.
To conclude, socioeconomic status is a common denominator and plays a significant role in determining extralegal factors such as race or childhood surroundings impacting conviction rates. Shamena Anwar, Ph.D. in criminal justice suggests a system not only restrained on evidence to determine the verdict of a jury but also increasing the number of jurors to decrease the irregularity of verdict outcomes and increase diversity within juries, resulting in more just trials (Anwar et al., p. 1049). The issue discussed is a societal problem, therefore one can not picture a utopian society where all is well and fair. But even though it is not realistic to aim for a utopian society, if no effort is taken to serve justice, inequality and unjust loopholes will continue to weave throughout America.