A Funny Thing Happened on The Way to Justice
I’m sitting in a small crowded courtroom in the Hayward Hall of Justice. Lots of reporters and cameras on tripods, court personnel and a few civilians. I’m thinking about my next blog, “the Politics of Trust.” Then, a funny thing happened on the way to justice.
An elderly Caucasian man stands on the side of the courtroom looking over the scene. Most don’t notice him – I realize that he is the judge waiting to take the bench. Soon he does. The Judge very quickly goes through the steps of arraignment for former Contra Costa Deputy Sheriff Ricardo Perez.
Ricardo Perez is charged with felony oral copulation with my client, Jasmine. It is apparently well known that he was “one of her regulars.” Since she was still a minor, he was actively engaged in the commercial sexual exploitation of a child (CSEC). He reportedly worked as a Contra Costa Sheriff’s Deputy for several years.
Who Is the Judge?
Judge Joseph J. Carson was first appointed as a judge by Governor Ronald Reagan in June 1972. In April 1984 Governor George Deukmejian elevated him to serve as a Superior Court judge. Judge Carson was a Deputy District Attorney for Alameda County between 1966 and 1972 before he became a judge.
The district attorney asks Judge Carson to set Perez’ bail at $60,000. After reading Perez’s probable cause statement, Carson smiles and says, “Fish Ranch Road? I haven’t been there since high school.” Carson then let Perez remain out of custody on his own recognizance.
Judge Carson’s decision to let defendant Perez out on his own recognizance (OR) is in stark contrast to the $300,000 bail Jasmine was held on in Florida a month ago. Judge Carson’s OR decision was obviously based on his own world view about CSEC and perhaps, his own fond memories of hanging out on Fish Ranch Road. When he made the comment, he seemed to snicker at the thought of whatever happened to him the last time he was on Fish Ranch Road.
What A Difference Race Makes
Judge Carson’s decision to OR defendant Perez on a felony charge is very different from bail decisions issued for most Black and Brown defendants in our criminal justice system in Alameda County. The experience of racism is still channeled through the bail system in America. Study after study has documented the disparity by race in bail decisions across the country.
In her 2013 analysis of bail practices, Washington College of Law Professor Cynthia E. Jones describes how judges “exercise virtually unbridled discretion in making bail determinations, which are too frequently corrupted by the random amount of money bond imposed, the defendant’s lack of financial resources, the implicit bias of the bail official, and the race of the defendant. These factors combine to create an extreme dysfunction in the bail determination process” resulting in severe over-crowding of jails and racial disparities in bail outcomes between African-Americans and whites. (Jones, C. E. (2013). “Give Us Free”: Addressing Racial Disparities in Bail Determinations.” New York University Journal of Legislation and Public Policy, 16(4), 919–62.)
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, between 2008 and 2011, Alameda County was one of the largest jail jurisdictions in the United States, (in the top 15) with an average daily population of more than 4000 inmates. Between 2009 and 2014, the percentage of our average daily jail population that was un-sentenced but remained detained was consistently much higher than the state average. Typical reasons for staying in jail before sentencing are the inability to post bail, public safety or flight risk, or slow criminal justice processing. The population of detainees “presumed innocent until proven guilty” is overwhelmingly Black and Brown.
The Racial Divide in Alameda County
Justice in Alameda County has historically been racially imbalanced. In 2002, the rate of felony arrests in California for African Americans was 4.4 times higher than for whites. Our rate of incarceration in Alameda County was 7.5 times higher; the rate of incarceration for second strikes was 10 times higher. African Americans were incarcerated at a rate almost 13 times higher than whites under the three-strikes program.
In 2004, in Alameda County, African-Americans were only 14.61% of the population; we were 52.85 of all felony arrests. In contrast, 41% of the population was White and only represented 22% of all felony arrests.
In 2008, 55.0% of the inmates in Santa Rita Jail were African American, while only 18.1% were White. At that time, 12.2% of adult residents in the County were African American and 40.5% were White.
There is clearly a legacy of racial injustice in Alameda County. Yet, we can count the number of police officers criminally charged for criminal misconduct in Alameda County on one hand. When an officer who clearly abused his position and power and exploited a young girl is actually charged, no bail is his reward. Judge Carson’s decision adds “insult to injury.”
How do you feel about that? Feel free to post your comment here or at my Facebook page.