NAACP’s Criminal Justice Forum
confronts fear, fairness and mis-education issues
By Tomi Morris Johnson
firstname.lastname@example.org ©2004 WingcomLtd. All Rights Reserved.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
(NAACP) recently sponsored a community forum at
Our criminal justice system is supposedly non-discriminatory and legally admonishes judgments based on ethnicity or skin color. Programs are in place to ensure fairness, however, the reality is jails and prisons continue to overflow with African Americans disproportionately, not because they are “habitually bad or mischievous”, but because they are deemed “serious offenders” who have “sinned against society.” Laws that legislatures pass, policemen enforce, and judges rule upon hurt minorities most.
“We judge people who have committed what I
call the seven deadly sins: murder,
armed robbery, rape, aggravated sodomy, kidnapping, aggravated child
molestation, and aggravated battery,” said Judge Robert E. Flournoy,
Cobb County NAACP President Deanne Bonner (foreground) stated that the local branch has been receiving complaints from inmates who have been waiting in jail as long as six months before they talk to a public defender. Panel members included Sol. Gen. B. Morgan, Judge D. Schuster, Judge R. Flournoy, Judge N. Campbell, and Attorney C. McManus.
“I think it’s wrong that
“I know that doing drugs is wrong, but I had no idea that
having sex could land me in prison for 10 years until a recent case here in
Today’s children are receiving conflicting messages on
the consequences of crime, right and wrong, and fairness. While the media
endorses the murder of terrorists without due process of law in retaliation for
crimes committed against the
“Kids are getting in trouble because of drugs, both legal and illegal,” said Attorney Connie McManus who added, “The best way to keep children out of jail is to keep them in school.” Many black kids, however, are cornered in classroom environments where fear, stress, prescription drug use, and anger have negative outcomes that do not include gaining wisdom and knowledge. Often, the result is violent acts being committed in and out of school.
Novella Billups lives in Marietta and is the mother of four. “There should be other programs in place to motivate kids in school besides the ‘fear’ of the criminal justice system. They are telling our children that if they misbehave, they will be brought in front of a judge,” Billups said. “Rehabilitation should take precedent before punishment,” said Superior Court Judge Danny Schuster.
“Communities need to create environments where children have hope. Children who have hope don’t behave inappropriately when it comes to sexuality, drugs, or violence.”
Dr. David Satcher, Former US Surgeon General
“We can’t stay in the courthouse and just sentence folks,” said Traffic Court Judge Nancy Campbell. “We’ve got to get out into the community, form partnerships, and mentor our youth,” Campbell said.
Victims of non-violent crimes also have difficulty receiving justice unless they can pay large sums to hire an attorney. Often, that means coming up with thousands of dollars for a retainer or signing an agreement with a lawyer to make monthly payments. Legal counselors rarely take contingency cases, and sometimes the only recourse to dealing with a bad attorney you have paid money to but received no results is filing a complaint with the local bar association.
Some plaintiffs have been successful winning judgments in Cobb County courtrooms. On March 18, 2004, a press release announced that Thomas, Kennedy, Sampson and Patterson, the oldest African American law firm in Georgia headquartered in Atlanta, had obtained a final judgment in the Cobb County Courts for $500,000 against Kaiser Permanente, America's largest not-for-profit health maintenance organization. The claim arose from the negligent medical treatment rendered to the plaintiff, a 28-year-old woman, in August 1997 at Kaiser’s Cumberland Parkway location for a vagina burn injury.
“Of course, no amount of money can make up for the pain, injury or mental anguish that my client has suffered over the past seven years, but the settlement assures her that her permanent medical condition, caused by the defendants, will be taken care of. It also sends a signal to all healthcare organizations and physicians that avoidable mistakes like these won’t be tolerated,” said Attorney Woody Sampson.
According to Judge Flournoy, a victim
of a crime does not need a lawyer. The accused defendant needs a lawyer to
represent him or her, but the victim does not require legal counsel. In one
sense, the victim's advocate is the prosecutor or district attorney's office.
The district attorney's office has a victim/witness advocate program to help
and assist the victims of crimes. The only time a victim would need a lawyer
is if the victim wanted to sue the criminal defendant for damages, like the
family of Nicole Simpson sued O.J. for her wrongful death. But this rarely
happens as 99% of all criminal defendants are poor with no money to pay damages
to the victim.
According to Judge Flournoy, a victim of a crime does not need a lawyer. The accused defendant needs a lawyer to represent him or her, but the victim does not require legal counsel. In one sense, the victim's advocate is the prosecutor or district attorney's office. The district attorney's office has a victim/witness advocate program to help and assist the victims of crimes. The only time a victim would need a lawyer is if the victim wanted to sue the criminal defendant for damages, like the family of Nicole Simpson sued O.J. for her wrongful death. But this rarely happens as 99% of all criminal defendants are poor with no money to pay damages to the victim.
In the meantime, many pro se filers who go to court representing themselves seldom obtain justice, especially if they are looking for a monetary award. Judges often refuse to hear such cases when brought before the bench and suggest pro se filers wait to hire an attorney, which further exacerbates the problem, leaving the case on the judge’s calendar for years.
“Wait” almost always means “never.” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Sebastian Bonner (r) sits next to his grandfather who is a bail bondsman. “As soon as we get our young men out of jail, they wind up in there again. We have to do something about repeat offenders,” Mr. Bonner said.
Audience participants were encouraged to learn more about the circuit defender system, the pro se program, the public defender’s office, legal aid, the volunteer lawyer’s program, the statewide defender’s program, and to maintain familiar relationships with local judges, police, attorneys, prosecutors, and parole officers in their communities.
Solicitor General Barry Morgan, who deals mostly with traffic violation offenders, said his office has an 11,000+ caseload. “I try to remain colorblind, but not everybody is,” Morgan said. All panelists agreed they welcome the opportunity to work with community outreach programs. For more information, contact the Cobb County Solicitor General’s office at 770-528-8580 or Judge Robert Flournoy, III at 678-581-5400. To learn more about Georgia’s criminal justice system, go to:
NOTE: Georgia’s Statutory Rape Law (Per OCGA 16-6-3)
In Georgia, you can go to jail for having sex! The law states:
· If you have sexual intercourse with any person under the age of 16 years, you will have committed statutory rape.
· A person 21 years of age or older convicted of statutory rape shall be imprisoned for a minimum of ten and up to 20 years.
· A person age 17-20 convicted of statutory rape shall be imprisoned for one to 20 years.
· If the victim is 14 or 15 years of age and the person convicted is no more than three years older than the victim, the person shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.
· It does not matter if you are male or female.
· It does not matter if you are unaware of the victim's age.
· It does not matter if the sex is consensual.
The information in this article is the opinion of the author and, therefore, should not be construed as libelous.