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Lecture 4

Sociology 2260A/B Lecture 4: Law and Social Inequality

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Western University
Sociology 2260A/B
Brenda Kobayashi

LAW AND SOCIAL INEQUALITY – LECTURE – MARCH 30 TH Law and Social Inequality • Is law an equalizer or does law reflect and reinforce the many dimensions of inequality within society? o Equal justice is more an ideal than a reality Administration of Justice • Neutral – blind to everything but facts of case, law governing case • Unbiased – personal backgrounds, wealth, poverty should not matter Social Class – Civil Cases • Who is more likely to have an advantage? o Lower SES or higher SES? ▪ Higher o Repeat vs. one shooters? ▪ Repeat Discussion • Some scholars do not find a relationship b/w income and criminal justice outcomes, once factors such as prior criminal record and offence seriousness are taken into account o Thus, the criminal justice system treats defendants equally regardless of social class • Other scholars argue once arrested, wealthy enjoy advantages over the more typical defendant who is poor or near-poor • Kobe Bryant o Accused of rape o Woman accusing didn’t want to publicly testify so case was dropped o Cheaper to pay off lawsuits than to implement safe guard Race and Ethnicity • Zero tolerance policies o Crackdown on minor offences • Racial profiling o “targeting individual members of a particular racial group on the basis of the supposed criminal propensity of the entire group” • controversial police practices o stop, question and frisk ▪ stopping individuals on the street (often w/ no legal reason), asking questions, frisking in search for weapons ▪ o carding ▪ information is collected about persons stopped and questions Gender and Civil Cases • does gender inequality continue to exist? o Sexual assault still happens everywhere in most workplaces o Women are taken more seriously than men however, it’s still not taken as seriously as it should be Gender: Criminal Justice • Why do males commit more serious crimes than females? o Socialized to be more assertive and aggressive o More friends that are likely to break the laws also o Loose ties with family • Gender differences in arrest and sentencing o Female sex workers and male customers o Who is more likely to get arrested? ▪ Females for status offences (ex: running away from home) • Prostitution laws o Females more likely to be arrested than males Prostitution Laws • Legal to communicate w/ intention of selling sex • Illegal to purchase sexual services or communicate w/ intent to buy sex • Illegal to sell sex near any area where person under 18 could reasonably be present • Legal to advertise own services • Illegal to advertise sales of others’ sexual services o Cracks down on magazines and online ads o Therefore, targets those who would run ads • Are these changes any different than what existed before court struck down previous anti-prostitution laws? • Is there a different moral value supporting new laws as compared to old laws? • What needs to be done when moral opinion and legal opinion are divided? Barkan: Law and Inequality Reading Social class • Lady Justice symbolizes that administration justice should be neutral and blind to everything but facts and law of a case, anything else shouldn’t matter Civil justice • Litigants are divided into two categories: o Repeat players ▪ Use law and courts on recurring basis ▪ Organizations o One shotters ▪ Use law and courts rarely ▪ Individuals o Repeat players tend to be “haves” – larger, richer and more powerful than one- shotters Criminal Justice • Herbert Jacob: criminal courts are “fundamentally against the poor”, white collar crimes attract less attention • To assess the law and inequality thesis, two issues must be addressed: o Once the poor and working class enter the system as suspects and defendants, how do they fare compared to wealthier defendants accused of similar offences? o To what extent is there disparate treatment of crimes by the poor and of the white-collar crimes typically committed by the wealthy? • White collar crimes receive more lenient treatment – “the rich get richer and the poor get prison” Race and Ethnicity Civil Justice • POC are disproportionately poor, not as much access to resources Criminal Justice • Two relevant issues in policing: racial profiling in traffic and street stops, and racial discrimination in arrest • African Americans and Latinos • 17.5% of drivers on highways are African American, 72% of drivers stopped (similar for Latinos) • patterns of arrest by race are extremely complex • minorities are arrested far more frequently than whites • racial discrimination in the war against drugs is clear • white people sell powder cocaine, black people crack cocaine – harsher for black people • disenfranchised numbers of African Americans and Latinos Gender • overt discrimination against women in the workplace, family and other social realms banned • equal pay for the same jobs Civil Justice • intermediate scrutiny standard: differential treatment is permitted as long as it is “substantially related” to the achievement of important governmental goals • men and women are biologically different and different roles in child bearing • based on standards • differences based on race, white people treated better in civil justice • gays and lesbians experience discrimination despite laws against it • sexual orientation Criminal Justice • men account for 91% of prison and jail inmates • males commit more serious crimes: socialized to be assertive and dominant, more opportunity to be away from home, less attached to their families, more friends who break the law • girls more likely to be arrested for status offenses o ex: running away, sexual behavior Repeat Players Advantages • Advantage intelligence – they know how system works • Can afford to hire skilled attorneys • Afford to pay for protracted litigation • Facilitative informal relations • Stakes are smaller • Legal and political institutions are passive Law and Inequality – Reading Contemporary Evidence • Equal justice under law is still far more of an ideal than a reality despite important changes in law since mid-1900s Social Class • Lady Justice statue symbolizes that administration of justice should be neutral to everything but facts of case and law governing case; personal backgrounds of litigants (financial wealth or poverty) should not matter • Wealthy have more advantages than poor have in both systems of justice – civil and criminal Civil Justice • Adjudication often favors litigant w/ greater financial resources (wealthy) • Litigants can be divided into two basic categories: o Repeat players ▪ Use law and courts on recurring basis ▪ Organizations ▪ Tend to be “haves” regarding wealth, power, and prestige ▪ have double advantage in terms of both their wealth and influence and their status o One-shotters ▪ Use law and courts only occasionally ▪ Individuals ▪ Tend to be “have-nots” • Configurations: o Most common configuration: repeat players vs. one-shotters ▪ Landlord vs. tenant, finance company vs. debtor o one-shotters vs. one-shotters ▪ Divorce or child custody hearing o One-shotter vs. repeat players ▪ Injured victim vs. insurance company or manufacturer of product that caused injury, tenant vs. landlord o Repeat player vs. repeat player ▪ Labor union vs. company, regulatory agency vs. corporation • Advantages of repeat players from using law and courts often: o b/c they know how legal system works and what documents and other evidence they need to protect their interests, they have “advance intelligence” that allows them to shape transactions to their benefit (having other party sign contract or submit security deposit) o they employ or can afford to hire very skilled attorneys o they can afford to pay for protracted litigation – a significant advantage since most litigation involves many delays o they enjoy facilitative informal relations w/ various members of legal and political systems that may help them in many ways o stakes in any one case are relatively smaller for repeat player’s b/c of their wealth and other resources and large for one-shotters b/c they lack such resources ▪ more willing than one-shotters to take risks to win case o legal and political institutions that handle legal claims are passive; they await action by litigant to initiate claim ▪ significant advantage to claimant w/ information, ability to surmount cost barriers, and skills to navigate restrictive procedural requirements ▪ parties are treated as if they were equally endowed w/ economic resources, investigative opportunities and legal skills • they are not, so greater advantage conferred on wealthier, more experienced and better organized party • the “haves” – wealthy and powerful organizations and individuals who tend to be repeat players – should come out ahead, and “have-nots” – poor and working class – should come out behind o to try to help “have-nots”, most of whom cannot afford to hire attorney, groups like Legal Aid Society (offices throughout US) and poverty attorneys funded by federal Legal Services Program begin in mid 1960s, handle civil cases for poor w/out charge Criminal Justice • Herbert Jacob – criminal courts are fundamentally courts against poor • Crimes (especially white-collar crimes) committed by other segments of population attract less public attention, less scrutiny from police, and less vigorous prosecution • Once poor and working class enter CJS as suspects and defendants, how do they fare compared to wealthier suspects and defendants accused of similar offences? o Several studies assess whether income is related to chances of being convicted, of being imprisoned upon conviction, and of receiving longer prison term if imprisoned – found no relationship b/w income and outcome once factors such as prior criminal record and offense seriousness are considered ▪ Opinion 1: This lack of relationship demonstrates that CJS treats defendants equally regardless of social class – does not provide evidence for law and inequality thesis regarding social class ▪ Opinion 2: this conclusion is misleading b/c almost all criminal suspects and defendants are poor/near-poor; wealthy people rarely commit robberies or burglaries or steal motor vehicle – studies cannot yield valid tests of social class differences in legal treatment • Better evidence of social class differences arises from very few cases in which wealthy people are arrested and prosecuted of homicide and other “street” crimes o Once arrested, immediately enjoy many advantages over typical defendant who is poor o Can afford bail and avoid pretrial detention o Obtain private attorney who specialized in criminal work o Can usually obtain delays that help weaken prosecution case o Can enroll in diversion programs by seeking private psychiatric treatment or other medical assistance o Can keep their jobs and maintain family relationships, qualify as good probation risks o can appeal conviction and delay serving sentence o ex: OJ Simpson and Kobe Bryant • White-collar crime: illegal or unethical acts committed by individual or organization, usually during course of legitimate occupational activity, by persons of high or respectable social status for personal or organizational gain • White-collar crime (deaths from unsafe workplaces, unsafe products, unnecessary pollution and surgery), accounts for many more deaths/year than does homicide • Although economic loss from all property crime (robbery, burglary, motor vehicle theft, and larceny), economic loss from property crime runs into hundreds of billions of dollars annually • In terms of death, injury and economic loss, toll of white-collar crimes far exceeds toll of street crime • To what extent is there unequal treatment of crimes by poor and of white-collar crimes typically committed by wealthy? o white-collar criminals generally do not receive legal sanctions commensurate w/ their crimes and generally receive much more lenient treatment than street crimi
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