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Supreme Court Decision in the US vs. Bass Case of 2001 Research Paper

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Updated: Mar 7th, 2022

Introduction

The latter paper is an analysis of all the issues surrounding the United States vs. bass case of 2001. It will show how the Supreme Court’s ruling was incorrect based on evidence, law and statistics.

Why the Supreme Court’s ruling was incorrect

The death penalty can be regarded as one of the most controversial punishments in the country. Consequently, it is advisable to strongly consider all the policies and procedures that had been applied during this case and in other cases in order to determine whether administration of the death penalty was justified. One must look for either internal or external factors that could have influenced the court’s decision and see whether those factors are legally binding or not. In the case of the defendant, race should not be a contributory factor and if this is so, then it can be concluded that the ruling was unfair. Since it can be extremely difficult to determine whether race was used maliciously by the court in order to pass the sentence, then the defendant is complelled to rely on past statistics on the death penalty in order to argue his case. (Department of Justice Manual, p. 10).

The very fact that the District court felt that the defendant’s case warranted sufficient attention from the Supreme Court indicates that there was a strong possibility that race could have affected the latter’s decision. In other words, the US constitution – section 3593 states that all the decisions being made within a court of law concerning a death sentence need to be such that they would be upheld if the very same court had not known the defendant’s race.

When one examines a series of cases that are related to the US vs Bass case such as US vs Armstrong (1996), it is evident that the overall theme in these cases is to find out whether discrimination was intended by the prosecutors. In the US vs Bass scenario, it was determined that as soon as discovery is allowed by the court, then that is an indication that the discriminatory claim is a substantial one. In other words, the defendant is at a legally backed position simply as a result of there being no other proof to indicate that race was not a contributory factor.

In the US vs. Armstrong case (1996) it was stated that if another person facing the death penalty was in similar circumstances to the defendant (Armstrong), then the decisions arrived at by the court must be the same. Race can come in as a factor if the court has arrived at a dissimilar decision. Interestingly, this was what happened in Bass’s scenario as seen in the Supreme Court hearings. At that time, it was stated that the ratio of application of negated laws on blacks was much higher than it was for whites.

In order to understand the latter assertions, it is necessary to look at some of the statistical issues surrounding the matter. First of all, one should note that there are more whites than blacks in both federal and state prisons. Here, whites outweigh blacks by about nineteen percent within state prisons. Consequently, when sentences are being imposed, then they should be reflective of these very ratios. Nonetheless, it has been shown that there are overwhelming numbers of blacks who are liable to Bass’s sentence compared to their white counterparts. In fact, there are about twenty eight percent more blacks than whites facing death related crimes in the country’s judicial system (US vs Bass, p. 7).

One of the most dominant sources of discrimination in US history can be found within the criminal justice system. These instances of discrimination are often highlighted by numbers as statistics can be major indicators of such intent. When there are excessive numbers of minorities liable to death related charges even when the circumstances surrounding their cases are similar to those of other non minority groups, then it can be said that there is indeed discrimination that has taken place. The following facts indicate that there was an intention to discriminate the said defendant

  • Persons charged with crime punishable through death in the district – 17
  • Percentage of blacks in the latter – 83%
  • Percentage of Hispanics in the latter scenario – 17%
  • Percentage of Whites -0%
  • Percentage of whites facing crimes punishable by death but due for pleas- 48%
  • Percentage of blacks facing the same – 25%
  • Percentage of Hispanics facing the same – 28%

As it can be seen from the latter facts and figures, despite higher numbers of whites being received in prisons and similar numbers of whites committing crimes that can be punishable by death, the manner of dealing with these cases is extremely different. This can be seen from the way the system grants plea bargains and also from the types of sentences that blacks have to answer to compared to their white counterparts in similar situations. Some serious flaws are therefore emerging in the criminal justice system; that it is enacting dissimilar charges and pleas to persons of different races. Care should therefore be taken to ensure that the punishments reflect the types of crimes being committed and not the suspects’ racial backgrounds (Bass v US, p. 6).

As of 1999, it was indicated that there were ten percent more blacks than whites within this specific District that were liable for conviction through the death penalty. Additionally, when it came to crimes that were eligible for punishment through death, it was found that a high percent of the cases under analysis actually reflected racial discrimination. Offences that were punishable through other mechanisms did not indicate this. It can therefore be argued that the over-representation of blacks in this category of offenses surmounts to discrimination since the ratio of blacks to whites is not reflective of actual criminal offenses punishable through death. Almost all offences committed within the said district had higher proportions of whites compared to blacks and this was also reflected in the kind of punishment they received. But when it came to the death penalty then some anomalies favoring the majority group began cropping up (Supreme Court of US vs Bass, p. 7).

This is an indication that the law was tilted towards one racial group than the other. A number of black defendants faced with crimes punishable by death are at a more vulnerable position than those ones facing other types of crime such as:

  • Man slaughter
  • Sexual abuse
  • Immigration

In fact, Bass’s defense revealed that there are some consistencies when one examines treatment of offenders in the latter types of crimes as these cannot be punished through death. On the other hand, if one is to look at the case of crimes punishable by death, there are about forty eight percent blacks who were subjected to this while only twenty percent whites face such a charge in the entire country. This indicates that there should be measures put in place to ensure that all punishments are administered fairly and justly (Ashcroft, p. 12).

The latter case provided the Supreme Court with an opportunity to look into some of the injustices that have been occurring in the criminal justice system and thus establish mechanisms of correcting them by not passing a judgment that seems to favor one racial group over the other. The latter assertions have also been supported by commentaries made by some of the most influential persons within the criminal justice system such as the Attorney General. The Supreme Court missed an opportunity of correcting an anomaly in treatment of diverse individuals within the criminal justice system. The law operates on a simple principle that if a person has committed a certain offense, then it is the duty of the system to ensure that the said individual undergoes the same procedures that another colleague in similar circumstances underwent. However, because there are high percentages of black persons who are subjected to the death penalty even when these percentages don’t reflect the numbers admitted into the criminal justice system for the same offenses, then it can be argued that there is indeed racial discrimination that has been going on in.

Some legal experts have argued that one cannot rely solely on statistics to argue out a case of discrimination. However, one cannot also ignore the fact that statistics are an important indicator of the driving forces of certain actions. If there are statistical inconsistencies in any type of offense, then this should be seen as sufficient ground to show that not all the decisions were devoid off prejudice and that justice may have been impeded as a result. In other words, since this evidence shows that there is no lack of discrimination then the Supreme Court should have held that it did exist (US v. John Bass, p. 4).

Conclusion

The amount of evidence in the US vs. Bass case was sufficient to indicate that Bass was a victim of racial prejudice in the legal system. He represented a group of African Americans liable to punishment by death who have been treated differently from their white counterparts in similar situations and who are facing the death penalty as well.

References

  1. Supreme Court. US vs Bass 2001 FED App. 0340P (6th Cir.), File : 01a0340p.06. 2009.
  2. Ashcroft, J. “Confirmation hearings on statistical survey.” US annual crime statistics 3 (1999): 45
  3. US Department of Justice Manual. “Death penalty protocol.” US Attorney’s Manual. (1997): 9-10
  4. Supreme Court opinion. US v. John Bass 2002 Supreme Court opinion 536 U.S. 862 (2002) (per curiam)
  5. District Court. Bass v US 1994 30 F.3d 133
  6. Supreme Court. “US vs Bass 2002.” Petition for writ of certiorarari. (2002): 01-1471
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