The statement “No matter what class we are born into we are all equal under the law,” is a very utopian opinion of the world at the present time. The statement recognises that our society is built upon a class system but at the same time recognises that the legal system exists outside these boundaries. So what is the perceived difference between the principle of “equality under the law and the reality of people’s experience”. It is fair to say then that the theory behind law is accurate, however when placed in practise we can see it differs dramatically.
As we are born, it is quite true to say that from the instance a person is born, the law will not have any preconceived notions of that person. And it is fair to say that, in theory, irrelevant to what class you are placed in, if a crime is committed then the legal system should and will uphold the law. However, in practise, I believe that a disproportionate size of police resources have targeted crime within the lower classes and the majority of criminals in prison at the moment, previous to their conviction, had an income below i??10,000.
It appears to be apparent, from statistics, that the criminal justice system seems to control those in society who are from a lower class, i. e. less affluent people. As Reiman (1995) notes about 45% of the U. S. prison population are unemployed, and for those who are employed earn less than $10,000 prior to their arrest. So what about the crime that exist within the upper classes? The upper class crime is extremely different from lower class crime, as the upper class tend to be affluent therefore certain crimes, such as theft, wont be committed.
However some of the crimes committed by this social group are ignored by the authorities that implement the law. This can be seen even more so when looking at organisations that are being policed by regulating authorities. When controlled the rich and the powerful are subjected to less stigmatising rules and regulations of agencies such as the EPA (environmental protection agency) CPSC (consumer product safety commission). A reason for this could be that many of the people who are policing these organisations used to be top executives and therefore are opposed to regulation of corporative activities.
Some say this is because corporations are not subject to the same social control practises because their actions are less costly. However this perception could not be further from the truth. In fact, corporative crime can amount to several times that of all the street crime, and with the responsibility of customers, duty of care for waste disposal, and production workers safety, the victims can be considerably worse, i. e. multiple victims, if the regulations are viewed as being a nuisance rather than being taken seriously.
Also when cases come are taken to courts the defendants’ character can play a factor within the case. When from wealthy backgrounds can afford expensive lawyers who advise hen on how to dress, how to talk, and how to behave. Also they would appear to be a respectful member of the public and this can influence the judge. However, with poorer families legal aid would be the only possibility and that would be limited so usually their case can be very weak. And coming from a lower class area might see him/her not as respectful as a businessman.
I believe a reason behind the judgement of the judge would be due to the fact that judges tend to be elderly white conservative males from middle-upper classes. This means their perception of the world is altered due to being financial stable, which there is nothing wrong with. However the desperation in the lower class has seen this group of people resort to crime, which the middle or upper classes have never experienced. But even if we go before this we can see that inequalities occur through the ‘arm of the law’, the police.
The police resources are localised in lower class areas – council estates. There is a perceived immanent threat of crime from these types of areas than in so-called middle class, respectful areas. But this is only the being of the inequalities that the police force is riddled with. In the 1990s the Stephen Lawrence case exposed the London Metropolitan police to be racist incompetents, an image the whole police force has struggled to shake off. In the 80s similar exposure occurred through the Toxteth riots when police where accused of police brutality and falsifying evidence on young blacks.
The young blacks were their targets because the police where localised in the run-down, poorer areas which they occupied. In total we can see that in society there is a two tier legal system, one for the poor and powerless and one for the rich and powerful. A reason for this could be that the social impact of the working class have a direct short term impact on society and public outrage can often lead to severer sentencing and therefore can create social inequalities that are apparent in the legal system.
Crimes such as theft in some circumstances have left the accused with community service orders where as theft from the elderly, or any one who is socially seen as vulnerable, and where public opinion is expressed especially, the culprit could find a hefty sentence awaiting him/her. On the other hand corporate crimes tend to have a long-term impact, pollution, and therefore the people who are responsible may not be held accountable because as time has passed they might have moved on.
When looking at what I have discussed it seems apparent that the lower classes are more likely to be imprisoned for crime than the upper classes. When looking at the crimes committed by the lower classes they appear to be detrimental to society compared with the majority of corporate crimes and therefore the two tier legal system seems to be justified. So why is the crimes of the lower classes more detrimental to society than that of the upper classes?
For decades, leading criminologists, during the late 1800s and early 1900s, have tried to explain the reasoning for criminal behaviour and a popular theory was that the criminal had a genetic deficiency. As the years passed this theory came in and out of fashion. However, at the present time, with the advanced knowledge of the sciences we can now say that this theory is irrelevant. However it does come to the next question of what is the cause of crime. Many believe that crime occurs due to social, economic and environmental factors.
This is what Marx believed and explored why the lower classes commit such crimes in capitalist regime. Marx argued that capitalism was full of inequalities and demonstrated this through the concepts of alienation, exploitation, and marginalization. Marx’s basic assumption was that individuals are creative beings and have a necessity to show this creativity through labour and that we are social being needing to interact between each other to survive. Therefore a proportion of people in society must sell their labour for wages to survive.
However when we exchange our labour for wages, the exchange is rather one sided. In this exchange we don’t retain the right to determine when we work, what we produce and how much we are paid, or how we will produce it. For Marx, these conditions were inherently alienating because they transformed the only thing we owned (our creativity, our labour) into an object that we must sell to another. Through this route of selling our labour we lose control of a significant activity that makes people human.
For instance, when looking at a production line in a factory where the employee’s job is to tediously fix bolts on to pieces of unrecognisable machinery, the worker has become alienated from what is being produced and therefore can take no satisfaction in their creation. Marx compared this to “mere appendages of flesh upon a machine of iron” Marx argued that you could measure the working class exploitation through the rate of surplus value – defined by a ration of paid to unpaid labour. The current rate of surplus in the US exceeds 400 percent.
This means that the US work force produces three times as much as the US work force did in 1954. These figures are contrary to popular opinion. To contradict matters the US corporations insist that productivity and profits are low for the justification of closing down factories to reopen in Eastern (cheaper min. wage) countries. This in turn creates a surplus population, population of unemployed workers. The production of a surplus population is a widespread phenomenon in America at present times.
For instance, between Jan 1993 and Dem 1995 US bureau of labour statistics reported 3. million workers displaced from there jobs. There is a 700,000 increase since the last report. The impact on these workers are that they realise they are the most dispensable within the hierarchy of the classes. The sudden implication of unemployment and the constant exploitation of the lower classes may deplete morality within the lower class. This with other variables that will later be discussed may constitute to why crime committed is disproportionate between the upper and lower classes. The mental states of lower class can come in to play.
Many are unstable due to their life experiences and are dubious of everyone. Violence is a common feature of the lower class lives, as they tend not to be able resort situation as they are not educated to. Also those who want to earn more money do it in illegal ways as its quicker and easier. This could be through selling drugs or stealing goods and selling them on. However some of this population steal for necessity to feed and clothe their family. Another variable that has to be taken to in account for is the contrast in environment between classes.
Generally the upper and middle classes have enough to sustain life for their family relatively affluently. So the strain on a human not being able to economically look after his/her family cannot affect them if their circumstances stay the same. However, constantly, the lower classes have been housed in council estates, which are generally run-down cheap housing for the poor. The run-down areas are constant and can cause depression. Many things can occur at such times. Some individuals may resort to drugs to phase out reality; others may seek to escape out of the lower class label.
To escape this depressive state, many seek wealth, usually illegally because of lack of skills to do so legitimately. When no morality is involved it can be very viable to sell drugs in this situation, as people in the lower class are always looking for a form of escapism from the morbid surrounding and the constant violent interactions they witness which is present in the lower class areas. They see drugs as the answer so within that lower class region there are an infinite number of customers in that area so there is a case of supply and demand.
There are many different ways in which people in lower classes can resort to criminal behaviour through the exploiting capitalist reasoning. However the equality under law is one of the most major preaching’s by the western democracies and is fundamental to them. This is different from the reality as can be seen at present with the war on Iraq. Firstly, President bush wishes to disarm the Iraqi government through international law when this approach fails America ignores the world governing legality and prefers the approach of a war.
This shows the inequalities and the constant contradiction of the western government when the practise of freedom is concerned. However the law has always stayed the same in its legal position independent of who is before the court, yet the people who are actually behind the law, applying the law have opinions and policies to which they prescribe to and can be influenced by other peoples persuasive arguments. There is evidence of this when we look at the Lord Archer case. Obvious to the public of his guilty the wealthy Lord managed to escape imprisonment. However only though his own failing was he caught out.
Again over in the U. S in the O. J. Simpson trial was not an example of justice prevailing. In America the legal system has the stigma of being able to buy your innocents. This would certainly be the case with this judgement. The reasoning behind this is because if had been an ordinary black from America they would have been found guilty and lucky not to be transported to Texas for executions. But O. J. Simopson was a respectable film star ex- American football player and was found innocent. This shows how being born in to a class can affect how you are judge under the law