ABA addresses 'destabilizing loss of public confidence' in criminal justice in joint statement

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The ABA and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational fund have issued a joint statement addressing the “troubling and destabilizing loss of public confidence in the American criminal justice system.”

The statement (PDF) notes the “recent spate of killings of unarmed African American men and women at the hands of white law enforcement officers.” While the ABA and the Fund believe that “the overwhelming percentage” of police, prosecutors and judges are not racist, “explicit bias remains a real factor in our country—and criminal justice system—and implicit or unconscious bias affects even those who may believe themselves to be fair,” the statement says.

“The American criminal justice is unquestionably at a moment of crisis,” the statement says.

Doubts about fairness are reinforced by statistics showing that about two-thirds of those incarcerated are persons of color and by U.S. Justice Department findings in its investigation of Ferguson, Missouri’s police practices, according to the statement. The Justice Department found differences in the rates at which blacks and whites were stopped, searched, cited, arrested and subjected to the use of force in Ferguson.

“The time to act is now,” the statement says. Among the recommendations:

• Lawmakers should review laws criminalizing behaviors that pose little danger to society. The criminal justice system is being used to address problems of mental health and poverty, while police are taking the place of teachers in schools that have adopted zero-tolerance policies.

• Police departments should keep data on the racial identities of people who are stopped and frisked, arrested, ticketed and issued warnings. They should also report incidents in which serious or deadly force is used, including the race of the officers and civilians.

• Prosecutors should collect and disclose more data that will help the public better understand the extent to which racial disparities arise from prosecutorial discretion.

• Prosecutors, defense lawyers and judges should adopt employee training on implicit bias.

• Prosecutors’ offices should “move quickly, aggressively, unequivocally—and yet deliberately—to address misconduct that reflects explicit racial bias.”

• Prosecution offices and police agencies should make an effort to hire and retain lawyers and officers who live in and reflect the communities they serve.

&•The public should have access to evidence explaining why grand juries decline to indict and why prosecutors decline to prosecute police officers involved in fatal shootings of unarmed civilians.

• Police officers should be trained how to defuse tense situations. Accountability could be promoted by greater police use of body and vehicle cameras.

• Prosecutors, judges and defense counsel must pay more attention to the collateral consequences of convictions, which can deprive defendants of opportunities for education, employment and housing.

An ABA press release is here.

“The American criminal justice system is clearly in need of reform on multiple levels,” ABA President William C. Hubbard said in the press release. “As lawyers, we have a duty and responsibility to ensure the fair administration of justice and to promote public trust in the system. The solutions are not quick or easy, but these proposals offer a tangible and potentially significant framework to make sure the system provides justice for all.”

See also:

National Law Journal: “Op-Ed: Charleston Massacre is Pivotal Point for Profession”

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