Problem of Legal and Social Justice

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The United States is in dire need of a criminal justice reform to reduce prison population and make changes to the mandatory minimums for nonviolent offenses. During the 1970s and 1980s the criminal justice system focused on rehabilitation then it shifted to retribution and crime control (Atkinson, 2018). According to Atkinson (2018), there has been a 500 percent increase in prison population over the last 40 years, bringing the total up to roughly 2.2 million. More than $80 billion per year in tax dollars are spent to maintain jails and prisons (Atkinson, 2018). It becomes a difficult balance between protecting innocent people from potential harm and being realistic about allocating funds appropriately. Until changes are made we will continue to see a rise in prison population which means more tax dollars used to sustain it.

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“Problem of Legal and Social Justice”

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The purpose of legal justice is to ensure criminals serve time for the crimes they commit, which provides justice for the victim, victim’s family, and the community as a whole. Legal justice becomes impractical when innocent people go to prison for crimes they did not commit or when plea deals are given out at the expense of victims. Plea bargains are used to prevent excessive court expenses if the defendant is willing to admit guilt and accept responsibility for the crime (Hough & McCorkle, 2017, p. 212). Pleas can be beneficial to the defendant if the prosecution has substantial evidence that would result in a longer sentence than the time offered in the plea deal. However, pleas can also be used to intimidate the defendant (who may be innocent) into admitting guilt in fear they would face a longer sentence if found guilty by the jury.

An example of legal justice is the conviction of Dustin McCowan for the murder of ex-girlfriend Amanda Bach (Geberth, 2015, p.29). The prosecutor presented a slam dunk case equipped with biological evidence (the victim’s blood on the suspects shirt), incriminating cell phone records, and an eye witness placing the suspect in the area where the victim’s car was found. Dustin was ultimately sentenced to 60 years in prison for the murder of Amanda. Amanda, her family, and the entire community received justice in this case.
Another example of legal justice was the conviction of Scott Peterson for the murder of his wife and unborn son. In 2005 Scott was given the death penalty for the 2002 murders. This case was more of a circumstantial evidence type of case, but the fact Scott was having an affair and told the lady he had recently lost his wife made him seem very guilty. Also, his odd behavior and indifferent attitude towards his missing 9-month pregnant wife made him also appear guilty. Scott receiving his guilty verdict and ultimate death penalty sentence provided not only justice for the victim and her loved ones but also the entire country.

The purpose of social justice is to ensure all people are treated fairly, because in order for justice to be served the person should be doing time and not a person. Wrongful convictions are fairly common and with organizations like The Innocence Project, innocent people are being released from prison after serving many years behind bars for a crime they did not commit. This causes unnecessary court expenses paid in taxes and wastes the time of all individuals involved in the trial when innocent people are convicted. Researchers found jurors from a higher socioeconomic status than the defendant tend to deliver a harsher penalty (Hough & McCorkle, 2017, p. 203). According to Hough and McCorkle (2017), a death penalty verdict is more commonly recommended for a white victim than a black victim, and if the victim is a white female then the likelihood of a death penalty verdict is even higher.

An example of social injustice where a plea bargain was used is the Leroy Harris case. Leroy accepted an Alford plea, meaning he plead guilty to lesser charges but never admitted responsibility for the crime (Feuer, 2017). Leroy had been convicted of robbery and rape in 1989 and was sentenced to 80 years. He never wavered from declaring his innocence and appealed the guilty verdict five separate times. Leroy was in prison for 28 years when the prosecutor offered the Alford plea after acknowledging there were substantial holes in the case against him. This is all too common that people are found guilty for crimes they did not actually commit. Situations such as these is where social justice becomes crucial in preventing the mistreatment of minorities facing criminal charges.
Another example of a social injustice is George Zimmerman’s not guilty verdict in the murder of Trayvon Martin. Trayvon was only 17 years old and was just walking through a neighborhood George believed he didn’t belong in. Florida has a stand-your-ground law in place which allows citizens to use deadly force if they feel threatened or there is a perceived threat. George claimed he felt threatened by Trayvon, so he shot him multiple times taking his life. Trayvon’s death and the deaths of several other unarmed black men lead to the Black Lives Matter movement. This movement has brought awareness to police unfair treatment of minorities.

After a person has been arrested and charged with the crime they go before a judge, usually within 24-48 hours, to determine whether they will be held in jail awaiting trial or be released on bail (Hough & McCorkle, 2017, p. 200). If there are no plea deals offered, then the case will go to trial. At trial there will be witnesses for both sides including experts who provide testimony on a specific field. A judge determines if a person is an expert in their field by a using either the Daubert standard or the Frye standard. To be considered an expert, the person must demonstrate the ability to use scientific principles and be knowledgeable in the particular field their testimony is in relation to (Hough & McCorkle, 2017, p.185). Once the judge deems the person an expert, they are then granted permission to testify in court. Experts are often used to assist with both the prosecution and defense and come from a wide range of fields. In the movie My Cousin Vinny, actress Marisa Tomei’s character was an expert on general automotive knowledge during a murder trial. Experts don’t necessarily have to be a forensic scientist or a firearms specialist to be considered an expert. An important aspect of expert testimony is to speak in terms easily understood by the jurors to eliminate any confusion.

The CSI effect also contributes to juror’s misunderstanding and an unrealistic expectation of the evidence presented in a trial. People that watch a lot of crime shows on television believe they have a better understanding of evidence analysis and police investigation at a crime scene (Hough & McCorkle, 2017, p. 194). One major misconception is jurors believe if there is no DNA evidence then the prosecution failed to do a thorough job (Shelton, 2008).

The core principle of social justice is that all individuals and groups are entitled to fair and impartial treatment. It also focuses on preventing abuse of human rights and providing equal opportunities for all within a society. It is morally wrong to treat people differently based on how they look or who they are. Legal justice focus is solely on punishment for crimes committed in order to provide justice to the victim. Sometimes legal justice comes at the expense of social justice and vice versa. One day the hope is the United States criminal justice system will undergo reform, so it is fair to all and the victim receives the true justice they deserve.

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Problem of Legal and Social Justice. (2019, Apr 08). Retrieved December 9, 2022 , from

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