Racial disparities continue to affect the criminal justice system in South Carolina and across the United States. Despite highly publicized issues drawing attention to racial bias in criminal prosecution and sentencing, black people are still much more likely to be incarcerated across the country. While statistics show that racial differences have narrowed in the past 16 years in local jails and state prisons, disturbing trends continue to exist. According to the Council on Criminal Justice, the biggest decline in racial disparity was shown in cases involving drug offenses. These cases have been highlighted particularly in campaigns pressing for reform of the criminal justice system, especially as they often involve nonviolent offenders.
In South Carolina courtrooms, judges are expected to be as unbiased as possible when making rulings and imposing sentences on those accused of crimes. Recent studies have shown that remaining unbiased in the courtroom may be more difficult than once believed.
Online privacy is a hot-button issue in South Carolina and around the country, and technology companies have been dragged over the coals by the media when they have sold confidential information to unscrupulous third parties or allowed malicious hackers to gain access to it. However, the ease with which law enforcement agencies can obtain personal information from social media companies and online service providers has prompted little in the way of outrage.
Juries in South Carolina and around the country tend to find eyewitness testimony extremely persuasive, and this is especially true when witnesses are able to identify criminal defendants with confidence. However, the way that police departments conduct suspect lineups and the inner workings of the human brain can sometimes make witnesses seem far more confident in court than they were when they made the initial identification.
South Carolina residents may be interested to learn that over 3,000 individuals will be released from the custody of the Bureau of Prisons starting in late July 2019. The release is meant to comply with the conditions of the First Step Act, a criminal reform act passed by Congress in 2018.
When police arrested a Florida man for marijuana trafficking violations, they allegedly discovered possibly incriminating information on the defendant's cell phone. Since the phone was locked, officers demanded that the defendant release his password, but the defendant refused. While police are required to get a warrant to search a cell phone, it's not clear whether or not they have the power to force someone to give up their password. There varying rulings in jurisdictions from South Carolina to California.
Residents of South Carolina can increasingly monitor their neighborhoods, connect with neighbors and report suspicious activity at the touch of a button. Community-oriented social media applications, like Nextdoor, Citizen and Amazon's Ring, have attracted many users. Critics assert that the applications encourage people to engage in racist stereotyping and create unnecessary fears about public safety.
Some people in South Carolina may have heard about an executive with MillerCoors who was facing charges of fraud. The man had participated with others in a scheme from 2003 to 2013 that cost the company over $8.6 million. On May 16, he was sentenced to 46 months in prison. An assistant U.S. attorney on the case asked for a sentence of 64 months. She acknowledged that he was the one who had tipped off prosecutors to the scheme but also said that he had committed "the ultimate betrayal." The man, a former vice-president, had worked his way up through the company.
South Carolina residents have likely read media stories about prisoners who were exonerated after spending years behind bars when witnesses recanted or DNA evidence proved their innocence. The National Registry of Exonerations keeps track of these cases, and its latest annual report reveals that the 151 prisoners exonerated in 2018 were incarcerated for a total of 1,639 years. This works out to about 11 years behind bars per exonerated prisoner and is the highest number observed since the organization began tracking this data in 1989.
Racial discrimination can affect many aspects of the criminal prosecution, trial and sentencing of people in South Carolina. One often-overlooked aspect of racial disparities in the criminal justice system involves the mistaken recording and understanding of Black English in the courtroom. One study examined court stenographers in Philadelphia, finding that they made errors in two-fifths of the sentences spoken in Black English grammar and accurately paraphrased only a third of the content.