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Injustice in Criminal Justice System: Analytical Essay on Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

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The United States of America, the “land of the free”, is not living up to its ideals of freedom. Our criminal justice system is unjust and discriminatory towards people of color and low socioeconomic status. They’re more likely to receive a death penalty sentence than a white person because race and finacial assets, unfortunately, are some of the determining factors of who gets the death penalty. It has turned into a system of oppression for the poor, defenseless, and falsely convicted. The injustices that occur in our criminal justice system aren’t being addressed. In Just Mercy, Bryan Stevenson seeks to correct this societal wrong by championing for the rights of death penalty recipients; he appeals to pathos, demonstrating that although injustice is present in the criminal justice system and death penalty, justice and mercy can be obtained for those who are suffering in these unfair systems.

Stevenson draws attention to some of the flaws in the criminal justice system through the case of Walter McMillian, a young man who was given the death penalty for a murder he never committed. Walter was wrongfully accused of murdering Ronda Morrison by Ralph Myers. While Stevenson described the police’s detainment and abuse of Walter based off Ralph’s false testimony, he appealed to pathos to stimulate agitation and hope within his once clueless audience. Stevenson notes during his first visit with Walter’s family the conversation he had with Walter’s older sister, Armelia Hand. She stated, “…the police come along months later, say he killed somebody miles away at the same time we were standing next to him. Then they take him away when you know it’s a lie,” appealing to pathos by explaining the primary reason why Stevenson is heavily invested in Walter’s case (92). In spite of the fact that Walter was wrongly convicted and sent to death row, Stevenson refused to surrender without a fight and the grittiness he displayed in the whole process made Walter feel that there was someone who still cared about him in the criminal justice system. Stevenson never left Walter’s side and this allowed him to passionately pursue the vindication that Walter and his family were seeking despite opposition from the criminal justice system. This is an appeal to pathos as it describes the effects that Walter and his family went through; it was painful for both of them. Most people love their family members unconditionally and can imagine the anguish Walter’s family must have felt. Thanks to these examples, Stevenson appeals to family emotions and proposes that perseverance can go a long way towards achieving justice and mercy in the criminal justice system that is currently flawed.

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Another displeasure that Stevenson voices about the criminal justice system is the ramifications of being sentenced to death row unfairly. An argument that can be seen as persuasive against the death penalty is the tedious process of establishing innocence and the toll it can take on someone’s body and/or mental health. Walter, for five years, endured multiple trials and hearings and was exposed to a deteriorating environment during his time on death row. It really affected him because he wasn’t the same person after the entire legal process. The appeal to pathos is made clear in the text when Bryan Stevenson observes Walter’s changed behavior by saying, ‘…He began drinking heavily, something he’d never done before. He told me that he was anxious all the time and that the alcohol calms his nerves’ (276). Obviously, time spent on death row had serious effects on Walter even though he ended up getting released and overturning the court’s original decision thanks to Stevenson’s legal representation. But, seeing as many never get the opportunity to leave, those still on death row are consistently being put through heavy trauma. By describing the side effects that Walter obtained from being on death row, Stevenson attempts to resonate with his audience’s sense of humanity in order to create sympathy for Walter’s unjustly dilemma through pathos. As a result, this leads to even more understanding as to why Stevenson is so committed to fighting for not just Walter, but people who have similar cases as well. Those who have been affected by wrong convictions personally or indirectly can relate to the difficulty and trauma that proving innocence can cause. Despite the hardship that criminal trials can produce, it is necessary to fight for justice because it can potentially save an innocent life. Stevenson realized this and it’s one of the reasons why he’s committed to defend the poor, voiceless, wrongly convicted, etc. Reading the book, as a result, causes Stevenson to be the protagonist of the novel and be cheered as a hero because it wasn’t morally right for Walter to be suffering through trauma that he should have never gone through. He was clearly innocent of the crime, but the justice system said otherwise.

Continuing on, Stevenson also points out that the death penalty racially profiles people of color. Poor and minority criminals are more likely to receive the death penalty than a white person because race, unfortunately, determines who gets the death penalty in the US. This is true because in the text, Bryan Stevenson writes, ‘We’re supposed to sentence people fairly after fully considering their life circumstances, but instead we exploit the inability of the poor to get the legal assistance they need–all so we can kill them with less resistance’ (287). The legal systems we currently have in place leave many gaps for racial and social discrimination. Though many don’t carry the same prejudice that was popular even 50 years ago, the context of many laws make it easy to target minorities and the poor who are most often subject to adversity and distanced from privilege. An example of this could be seen with Walter McMillian and Jimmy Dill. Walter’s family raised money to hire two Selma lawyers and they did this through church donations and pawning their possessions. Their attempt to release Walter from death row wasn’t successful, however. Stevenson also decided to take on the case of Jimmy Dill everyone was poor on Alabama’s death row The poor are the ones who usually suffer from a lack of finances

Another memorable scene, argument, dialogue, or fact included in Just Mercy is the incarceration rate statistics. The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world because Stevenson writes, ‘The prison population has increased from 300,000 people in the early 1970s to 2.3 million people today’ (15). The sad part about this fact is that kids are included in the prison population consensus. Some states prosecute children as adults, and we’re the only country in the world who does this. The US Criminal Justice System should be ashamed of itself. They’d rather focus on making money by incarcerating as many people as they can instead of seeking justice for the innocent, poor, oppressed, and defenseless. Unfortunately, jails are seen as profitable investments and until they’re no longer viewed this way, our Criminal Justice System will be more humane and just.

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Injustice in Criminal Justice System: Analytical Essay on Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson. (2022, July 14). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 1, 2022, from
“Injustice in Criminal Justice System: Analytical Essay on Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson.” Edubirdie, 14 Jul. 2022,
Injustice in Criminal Justice System: Analytical Essay on Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 1 Dec. 2022].
Injustice in Criminal Justice System: Analytical Essay on Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Jul 14 [cited 2022 Dec 1]. Available from:
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