Equal Protection Requires Equal Enforcement

March 1, 2012

One of the freedoms most overlooked by the average person in the United States is the freedom of the press.  Throughout our history the press has exposed political corruption that brought down a President, financial dealings that have bilked millions of dollars from investors, and have righted the wrongs done by overly aggressive police and prosecutors.  It is with this rich history in mind that I read an article today about an investigation done by an Atlanta news station which uncovered statistics that indicate African Americans are being arrested far more frequently for marijuana possession than whites.

Channel 2 News in Atlanta reported their findings of an investigation into whether whites and blacks were being treated equally in marijuana possession cases.  The article states that 93 percent of all marijuana possession arrests were African Americans, while they comprised 54 percent of the total population of Atlanta.  It seems unlikely that 54 percent of a community is committing 93 percent of one crime in that community.  It is unrealistic to conclude that racial profiling is occurring based on these statistics alone.  There are many factors that could explain these numbers.  None of them, however, are pleasant to think about.

Atlanta is a huge metropolitan city.  Like other such cities, officers who patrol in Atlanta often never work outside of an assigned area.  They get to know their precincts as well as anyone who lives there.  They know who are committing crimes, and who they can turn to when investigating crimes.  They learn the character and feel of the people they are sworn to serve and protect.  These areas often take on a life of their own apart from their place in the larger metropolitan community.  It would be interesting to know whether the arrests being made are all being made in certain precincts or neighborhoods.  If so, the disparity in arrest statistics may be explained because the officers in certain high crime precincts have a better understanding of these sorts of crimes within their patrol area.  If not, then the probability that racial profiling is occurring as an accepted practice by the whole Atlanta Police Department.

There are several things that a criminal defense attorney must remain aware of when defending a marijuana possession case.  These cases raise a whole host of constitutional issues that are not seen in all criminal cases.  Almost all of these cases raise 4th Amendment issues that must be explored before plea agreements are pursued.  In Atlanta - and many other places throughout the nation - lawyers must ensure that their clients 14th Amendment rights (commonly known as the Equal Protection Clause) are protected as well.  This requires attorneys to look at the statistical data exposed by Channel 2 and evaluate whether their client is part of the 54% that is being label a criminal 97% of the time. 

We would like to hear from you.  What do you think explains this statistical disparity between population size and percentage of arrests?  Do you think this is happening in San Antonio or Austin?  Share with us in the comments below.