Could Protests Lead to Real Criminal Justice Changes in Chicago?
Protests that are moving across America are meant to highlight racism in the United States and how it plays out in numerous ways in our society each day. In doing this, these protests are also highlighting the myriad ways that the criminal justice system in this country must be reformed… and starting to make those reforms a reality.
Here are just a few of the criminal justice reforms that activists are working on to help ensure all Americans are free to exercise their rights.
One of the biggest issues addressed by these protests is police reform. You may have heard the term “defunding” or “abolishing” the police, but what does that mean?
At its heart, calling for defunding the police is a call for restructuring the way those in the community who are in crisis are dealt with by law enforcement officials. Often, sending an armed police officer to a scene where what is really needed is a crisis intervention specialist or mental health counselor can make a situation go from bad to worse.
Especially in communities of color, law enforcement is seen as being selective in the enforcement of even low-level offenses. Additionally, there have been far too many instances of using excessive force that has resulted in the deaths of unarmed people such as Eric Garner and Michael Brown. Having other trained professionals aside from police available to respond to emergencies is critical.
Public Defense Reform
Every single defendant in the criminal justice system is entitled to effective counsel by the Constitution of the United States. The problem is that a lack of time, skills, and resources often render court-appointed counsel ineffective, thus denying defendants the ability to exercise their fundamental rights. For example, defendants may be forced to appear at hearings for bail or probable cause by themselves. Unfortunately, some of these defendants end up paying for the shortcomings of our public defense system with their lives. Public defenders do what they can, but if the system isn’t working, then there’s only so much they can do.
Protecting and expanding the right to legal counsel for criminal defendants is essential to ensure that people can get the legal advice they need in court for matters large and small. Of course, private defense attorneys can help to move a case along at a faster pace and ensure your rights are upheld — but for that to happen defendants have to reach out first.
Drug Law Reform
Another pressing issue in communities across the country is drug law reform. It’s widely believed that drug laws should reflect the collective will of the people, yet jail sentences for even minor marijuana convictions are common. This is despite the fact that most Americans believe small amounts of marijuana possession shouldn’t translate into jail time.
The fact of the matter is that in the United States, even minor drug convictions that never result in jail time can have a huge impact on the people’s lives. Many of those convicted cannot qualify for public housing, get certain types of jobs, access federal student loans, or hold a driver’s license without paying large fees to have a suspended license reinstated.
In short, current drug policies create large inequalities, which is why drug decriminalization and protections for some drugs are huge issues that must be addressed.
Even as this is being written, some legislative steps are being taken on many of these issues. However, if you are already in the middle of your case, you may not be able to wait for the criminal justice system to catch up. You need to put together the strongest possible case now and fight hard for your freedom and future.
About the Author:
Andrew M. Weisberg is a former felony prosecutor who now serves as a defense attorney in the greater Chicago area. He has extensive experience in handling all types of criminal cases, from sex offenses and domestic violence to retail theft-related crimes, murder, and drug crimes. His work has been recognized by Avvo, Expertise, National Trial Lawyers, and others, and he has been featured on countless news outlets for his experience and knowledge in criminal law.