This year's Childress Memorial Lecture will address the continuing inequality in the criminal courts. The two-day event will feature keynote speaker Stephen Bright, president and senior counsel of the Southern Center for Human Rights, and two panel presentations on the topic.
The event will kick off Thursday, Oct. 6, and continue at 8:30 a.m., Friday, Oct. 7, with Bright offering the day's introduction before two panels about criminal defense and the death penalty, respectively. The event will wrap up at 3 p.m. with closing remarks.
About the Event:
While Americans are increasingly aware of issues involving law enforcement agencies and communities of color, less attention has been paid to the courts to which those arrested are sent after being taken into custody. In that system, numerous discretionary decisions are made by prosecutors, such as whether to file charges; whether a high bail be set so the accused remains in jail; what charges to bring; whether to seek enhanced penalties such as the death penalty, life imprisonment without the possibility of parole or a mandatory minimum of years in prison; whether to make a plea offer and what offer to make; what information to disclose to the defense; and whether to strike prospective jurors based on race during jury selection.
Most of the discretionary decisions are made by white men, even though virtually all the people appearing before some criminal courts are people of color. People are often prosecuted in municipal courts whose primary purpose is revenue generation and not law enforcement. In those courts and others, the accused may be denied a lawyer to assist them, or may be given a lawyer who lacks the competence, resources, experience, training and, in some cases, the inclination to provide a zealous and effective defense. In many states, the people in charge of this system - governors, legislators, prosecutors and judges - want it to remain as it is because it gives the prosecution an enormous advantage in obtaining convictions, fines, jail and prison terms, and death sentences.