Author Archive

Who holds the discretion when determining whether someone has a justifiable legal defense? Police Officers or Prosecutors? Instead they focus on race relations.

April 22nd, 2012 No comments

Written by: Jade Morrison

If Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by another black teenager, President Obama wouldn’t have weighed in, Al Sharpton wouldn’t be holding rallies, and the media would not be running this on television for hours. Liberals in the media like to show their good racial manners, they don’t shine a spotlight on dysfunctional behavior in some black neighborhoods, and that’s also how the civil rights establishment wants it because they don’t want to air dirty laundry in front of the whole nation.

– Berine Goldberg

Historically, a large percentage of African Americans protest revolves around racial motivated crimes. More specifically, we have seen the Black Community come together to fight against police brutality. This was most recently seen in the Sean Bell case in 2006 and Amadou Diallo in 1999. Today, once again, the Black Community had joined forces to fight against a potential racial crime committed by George Zimmerman against Trayvon Martin. There is absolutely nothing wrong with our community coming together to fight racial inequality, but it becomes an issue when we turn a blind eye to intra-racial crimes. Not once in the few last years has there been a protest against gang violence within the Black Community. Neither have there been reports of the Black Community taking a stance against the effects of drugs in our inner city schools. Many political leaders today remind us, that race related issues are not the only topics African American’s should take a stance against. We need to first help stop crimes in our own neighborhood and need to take a pledge to uplift the Black Community as a whole. At a press conference Jesse Jackson stated, “[I] would like to see the Black population turn its anger over the death of Trayvon Martin into an energy directed at voter registration, economic inequity and other issues of discrimination and racial injustice. I would hope that the movement would turn into Trayvon Martin voter-registration rallies.”

Those protesting for the arrest of George Zimmerman should be focused on the Stand Your Ground laws and how it impacts society as a whole. More specifically, whether there had been an increase in crimes rates due to these laws? Or whether Stand Your Ground laws give an excessive amount of discretion to police officers? And lastly, whether theses laws give police officers total power to determine ones innocence or guilt before making an arrest? Some argue that the Black Community predominantly protest race related crimes because the purpose of Civil Rights leaders is to protect the Black Community from the “White” majority. But whose responsibility is it to protect African American from their “own people?”

Are we as a society now promoting self help? The New Black Panther Party (NBPP) has found Zimmerman guilty based one “street law” and will award $100,000 for his “capture.” I ask, why are law student’s not analyzing whether this speech is protected by the First Amendment? And whether it should have First Amendment protection at all? This is not what the discourse is about today. We see media stations continuously interviewing the NBPP and spreading the word of their bounty. Many law students are feeding into the ideals of the general population and wearing black hoods as a symbol of Trayvon Martin. Law students should be applying the concepts they have learned in criminal law, criminal procedure and constitutional law to educate our society on the workings of our legal system.

The opinions expressed herein are strictly those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Widener Journal of Law, Economics & Race.


1)         Main article

2)         Bernie Goldberg

3)         Jesse Jackson:

4)         Mayor Nutter’s Speak Out:

5)         Black Panther party

6)         Bernie Goldberg

Crack v. Powder: A “Fair” Question

April 20th, 2012 No comments

Written by:  Brandon Perloff

In recent years, a drastic change in sentencing guidelines has taken place with regards to penalties imposed on the “crack” or “rock” versus the powder form of cocaine.  The Fair Sentencing Act, which President Obama signed into law in August of 2010, substituted the old guidelines in which an accused convicted of 1 gram of “crack” cocaine would receive the equivalent sentence of another convicted of dealing 100 grams of the powder form of cocaine, with a less disparate guideline of a 18-1 ratio.  (See reference 1.)  The impetus for this change has been traced to “the reality that cocaine crimes resulted in harsher penalties for blacks than for whites, a racial divide not as clear for any other illegal drug.”  (See reference 1.)  This divide arises from the reality that blacks received harsher punishments more often for dealing the “crack” or “rock” cocaine, and whites more often received a lesser punishment for dealing powder cocaine.  (See reference 1.)

After the signing of the Fair Sentencing Act, an issue arose as how the act affected those who committed the crime prior to the signing, but sentenced after.  Attorney General Eric Holder, has said that the government urges the courts to apply the new 18-1 ratio to anyone sentenced after the Act’s signing, no matter when their crimes had occurred.  (See reference 1.)  This Tuesday, the Supreme Court will hear a one-hour oral argument on the matter, in the context of two cases concerning the prison sentences imposed on two defendants convicted of trafficking cocaine.  (See references 2 & 3.)  The threshold issue is essentially one of statutory interpretive concerning whether the 2010 act was meant to apply retroactively.  However, no person involved in the matter can deny the “crack v. powder” controversy and the racial implications and overtones surrounding these arguments.  It leads one to question whether “fair” sentencing should only be afforded to those who waited just a bit longer prior to dealing or possessing cocaine?

1)  Lyle Denniston, Argument preview: The crack cocaine controversy, SCOTUS blog (April, 12, 2012, 6:38 pm), (last visited April. 13, 2012).

2)  Dorsey v. United States: SCOTUS blog, (last visited April. 13, 2012).

3)  Hill v. United States: SCOTUS blog, (last visited April. 13, 2012).

Categories: Headline Tags: ,

How accurate are cross-racial witness identifications?

April 19th, 2012 No comments

Written by:  Tetra S. Shockley

The Teach Your Jurors Well: Using Jury Instructions to Educate Jurors About Factors Affecting the Accuracy of Eyewitness Testimony article articulates the challenges of convictions based solely on eyewitness testimony.  Mistaken identity from eyewitness testimony is the single largest cause of wrongful convictions in capital cases.  One of the greatest difficulties in eyewitness identification is cross-racial identification.  This occurs when a witness of a crime is of a different race than the perpetrator.  Many studies have shown that people have an easier time identifying members of their own race and tend to make more errors when having to identify members of other races.

Wrongful convictions based on cross-racial identifications have sparked debate about whether to allow expert testimony on the difficulties of making such identifications.  I believe the question is not whether to allow expert testimony in these cases, but how to implement it in a way that assists rather than hinder jurors.  Jurors are ordinary citizens who may or may not know the scientific or social data surrounding memory, how it works, and how it can be affected.  Likewise, they are not always aware that the “own-race” bias even exists.  It is the job of the courts to ensure that jurors have all the information they need to make an informed, educated decision based on the evidence.   This can be done through jury instructions, as well as expert testimony.  Currently, jurisdictions are divided and there is no uniform approach.

Derek Simmonsen, of the Maryland Law Review, gives an in depth look into the science behind eyewitness testimony (including cross-racial identifications), what jurors do and do not know about this topic, and the legal system’s struggle with the incorporation of eyewitness research in trials.

The link to Derek’s article:

Kept Promises? Grutter & Diversity

April 12th, 2012 No comments

Written by: Stephen Mahan

When the Grutter decision upheld affirmative action at the University of Michigan Law School, many commentators hailed it as a step forward in race-relations.  Our own law school, Widener, has taken steps to further encourage and foster diversity within its halls, in the hopes of obtaining those educational benefits associated with diversity, by appointing its own “Multicultural Affairs Officer.”  (Link to announcement.)  Meera E. Deo, of the Thomas Jefferson School of Law has recently written on Grutter’s actual effects on race-relations in the law school classroom.  See Meera E. Deo, The Promise of Grutter: Diverse Interactions at the University of Michigan Law School, 17 Mich. J. Race & L. 63 (2011).  (Link to article.)  But a different type of survey might better reveal how race-relations in the legal profession have advanced since Grutter – a survey of more recent minority graduates and their experiences in the job hunt.  It has been some years since Justice Clarence Thomas graduated, when “Yale meant one thing for white graduates and another for blacks, no matter how much anyone denied it.”  Clarence Thomas, My Grandfather’s Son 99 (2007) quoted in Jeffrey Toobin, The Thomases vs. Obama’s Health Care Plan, The New Yorker, August 29, 2011.  (Link to article.)  But, to borrow a phrase from Justice Thomas, has the “taint of racial preference” – that “You only got into U of M because you’re a minority” – yet dissipated?

The opinions expressed herein are strictly those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Widener Journal of Law, Economics & Race.


Inner-City School District Facing Potential Closure in the Midst of Financial Woes

April 11th, 2012 No comments

Written by:  Patrick Gallo

The Chester Upland School District is a midsized, urban public school district that has one of the highest student poverty rates in Pennsylvania. Under the guidance of their newly elected school board, the Chester Upland School District is in the midst of a financial meltdown. The meltdown stems from a growing charter school population, stiff budget cuts, and a limited tax base. Continually injecting funds, however, will not solve the greater issue of addressing Chester Upland’s failing educational system as demonstrated by the fact that the Chester Upland School District ranks sixth out of the fifteen Delaware County schools in per pupil spending, but last in PSSA scores.

Nevertheless, Chester Upland will at least have a few more months to address its ubiquitous educational concerns courtesy of a Federal judge’s order for the state to pay $3.2 million to the District. The $3.2 million, however, will only serve as a “band-aid,” as there is no long-term solution to fix the District’s financial difficulties. It will be interesting to see if the state will continually fund Chester-Upland or allow it to flounder and eventually dissolve.  In the event Chester-Upland is no longer able to keep its doors open, the state will have to determine whether to redraw district lines or test whether or not the Supreme Court is willing to extend its segregation ruling in Milliken v. Bradley in which it held that an interdistrict remedy cannot be used to solve an intradistrict problem.

Links of relevance:

Is there a solution for Chester Upland’s problems?

Plan outlines aid for troubled Chester Upland School District

Pa. offers plan to keep Chester Upland district afloat through end of school year

Federal Court Holds Onto School Funding Dispute

Milliken v. Bradley, 418 U.S. 717 (1974).

Categories: Headline Tags: , ,

Ready, Aim, Fire?

April 9th, 2012 No comments

Written by: Amy C. Hummler

The Ready, Aim, Fire? District of Columbia v. Heller and Communities of Color article presumes that the Supreme Court’s failure to articulate a standard of review or what constitutes a reasonable regulation of firearms will likely increase litigation on a municipality’s ability for regulating the possession and use of firearms within their own city limits. I found this article interesting as it describes that this is not just an issue about public, health, and safety but also a civil rights issue because African Americans are statistically more victimized by gun related violence than other races. There are several municipalities who have similar regulations to D.C. that prohibit firearms, and the Court’s invalidation of this ordinance will require widespread restrictions to become lenient in areas where violence is rampant. The article notes that handguns in urban areas pose distinctive dangers and African Americans usually bear the largest burden from these dangers. I agree with the authors’ main assertion that municipalities should have  broad power to enact laws regulating firearms based upon their own circumstances. These laws should be determined by local citizens, and especially by African American communities, who are affected by handgun related violence.

Link to “Ready, Aim, Fire? District of Columbia v. Heller and Communities of Color” by Michael B. de Leeuw, Dale E. Ho, Jennifer K. Kim, and Daniel S. Kotler.

The opinions expressed herein are strictly those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Widener Journal of Law, Economics & Race.