A Lieutenant with the Los Angeles County Sherriff’s Department sent out a memo to deputies in Norwalk recently, urging them to weigh heavily the individual behind the crime and use their discretion carefully when deciding whether to make an arrest. Although the memo was likely well intentioned, it does bring up some good talking points.
According to the LA Times, the memo mentioned an example of a potential arrest where the suspect had an illegal knife but was a “decent kid” from a nearby Christian University. He states in the memo that putting a felony charge on someone who is a good person merely making a mistake, could change the course of his life and have lasting impact that may have been better left alone.
The memo is right—an otherwise law abiding member of society with the potential to become an upstanding positive adult could be affected forever by a felony conviction. A simple one-time mistake perhaps does deserve a “pass” from police. But, who’s to say an officer’s decision to let one “pass” isn’t motivated by bias?
An attorney who is said to monitor the Sheriff’s Department is quoted as saying “what if the same kid was a black student with long dreadlocks…?” Things like common sense must be at the forefront of the deputies’ minds as they are applying their discretion so that their choices to arrest or release aren’t actually based on such things as the color of someone’s skin paired with the neighborhood they are from or the car they are driving.
There’s absolutely no doubt that the entire criminal justice system affects minorities in a disproportionate manner. From arrests to convictions and sentencing, African Americans and other minorities are at a disadvantage in the system. While discretion is important in the work of both police officers and judges, it seems to be used in an unfair manner at times.
When you are facing criminal charges you are justified in wondering whether or not these things will affect your case. Whether you are of Mexican descent or African American, I can imagine fair treatment in regards to your race has crossed your mind.
Having a defense attorney on your side from the very beginning can help ensure you are treated fairly throughout the process. Whether you are facing serious felony charges or a misdemeanor offense, a criminal record can haunt you forever.