“Wealth, Not Culpability, Shapes Outcomes” in Court

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In a 2012 TED talk — which has been viewed over a million timesthis week’s guest, lawyer Bryan Stevenson, talks about the hard truths of America’s unequal justice system, the incredible disenfranchisement of those with criminal convictions and his own upbringing in Delaware.

[M]ass incarceration, in my judgment, has fundamentally changed our world. In poor communities, in communities of color there is this despair, there is this hopelessness, that is being shaped by these outcomes. One out of three black men between the ages of 18 and 30 is in jail, in prison, on probation or parole. In urban communities across this country — Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington — 50 to 60 percent of all young men of color are in jail or prison or on probation or parole.

Our system isn’t just being shaped in these ways that seem to be distorting around race, they’re also distorted by poverty. We have a system of justice in this country that treats you much better if you’re rich and guilty than if you’re poor and innocent. Wealth, not culpability, shapes outcomes. And yet, we seem to be very comfortable. The politics of fear and anger have made us believe that these are problems that are not our problems. We’ve been disconnected. Read the full transcript »

Stevenson’s talk reportedly received the longest standing ovation in TED history and the video version is included in TED’s curated “Pursuit of Justice” playlist.

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  • George

    Thank you for sharing this Mr. Moyers. Great TED Talk.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000383770953 Spoke Umbra

    Our justice system is completely hammered.

  • Rafael Espericueta

    Mathematician Bruce Bennett used to say that one could easily predict the outcome of any trial by noting which attorney wore the most expensive shoes…

  • http://www.facebook.com/lennyhaglund Len Haglund
  • RainbowExplorer

    I discovered, to my astonishment and complete horror, just how unjust our CIVIL “justice system” is, once my 74 year old (unknown to me) urologist butchered my body so badly during a minor kidney stone removal surgery, I was left paralyzed, in severe, chronic, nerve pain, and in stage 4 kidney failure (after always having had perfectly healthy kidney function). I lost my ability to practice any of my three licensed professions (which I had attended 12+ years of full-time university to attain – all while working my way through the process with full-time jobs), became mostly homebound, lost most of my hobbies and relationships, and had to get involved in the most inequitable “civil justice system” imaginable, whether I wanted to or not.

    Just try being profoundly ill, maimed, injured, confused, and thrust up against a millionaire surgeon (with ample support from his millionaire surgeon buddies) who is well protected by his billionaire medical malpractice insurance company, who has hired the largest (500 person) law firm in the state, while you are legally naive, sick as a dog, and have just one attorney to represent you! It’s a classic case of “David vs Goliath”, but no miracles take place in this sort of horrific situation, which takes place every single day, across the nation.

    Within the USA, MDs are GUARANTEED to win in malpractice court cases 85% – 95% of the time, REGARDLESS of their level of culpability. Most cases are settled out of court, as the injured person doesn’t have the financial, physical, emotional, and/or other resources to equitably challenge millionaires and billionaires. MDs have enormous numbers of MD friends to call upon to act as “experts” on their own behalf, while the injured party has to pay thousands of dollars searching for an expert MD willing to be “blackballed” by his/her profession, for speaking the truth about clinical incompetent/wrong-doing.

    In my case, my attorney received approximately 60% of my small settlement, which was actually a much larger “win” than the family which followed me a couple of years later. In that case, a male was killed by that 80 year old surgeon, as a result of a circumcision. They entire settlement in that case was $25,000 – that’s all that male’s life, death, and suffering was “worth”. The same surgeon is STILL actively “practicing” on other unsuspecting patients and the state medical board couldn’t care less! That family is celebrating this Christmas, minus their loved one, thanks to an incompetent, indifferent, yet powerfully connected surgeon who’s living in the lap of luxury.

  • Barb Howard

    My son learned this the hard way too. He refinanced his home in 2008, and at closing, the title company (hired by his mortgage broker) left town with the closing check which should have paid off the old loan. My son paid regularly on the new loan, but began receiving late notices from the old mortgage holder, Chase. He called Chase and the new lender to ask what was going on, but they had no answers, except to say to continue paying his mortgage and the money would catch up. Six months after, Chase foreclosed on him, although by then he had advised them of the situation and attempted to resolve it. Five years and o

  • Bob Muenchausen

    I would say that there is a large element of truth to the basic premise. I would only add what I think is an equally significant factor in most decisions – Local Culture.

    Certainly wealth plays a part in how folks on a jury of “peers” will look at an issue. But as a 4X juror, it has been impressed on me each time how respect for local cultures and what they forbid and what they condone, too often shapes a jury’s verdict and colors the debate for a judgement MORE SO than any considerations for the interpretation of a civil law or laws that may be alleged to have been transgressed and demand judgement. In 4 out of 4 cases I have sat on, the law and the enforcement of the law was decidedly a secondary aspect and influence in their decision making processes, and at least in my opinion, just something imposed by the court process around which local values, custom, and culture wrapped itself to give an appearance of having some legal bearing and legitimacy. JMHO

  • Bob Muenchausen

    True, and which one played to the cultural mores and values of the jury.

  • TonyD

    If the jury were asked to vote “like him/don’t like him” instead of “guilty/not guilty”, about 99% of the verdicts would be the same.

  • Terence

    Still believe the War of Independence was an improvement? It is easier to criticize that to create.