Law refers to a system of guidelines and regulations that are enforced via social institutions in order to govern behavior. Governments through their legislatures are responsible for making laws. The constitution and the rights stipulated in it have a significant influence on how laws are formed. Laws act as a relation mediator between people and shapes economics, politics and society as a whole. From inequality, maltreatment to being taken advantage of, poor people have been disadvantaged from nearly all quotas of life (Greenwald, 2012). It is vital to understand that the poor are just as human as any other person and deserve respect and love. This paper looks into how laws continue to disadvantage the poor. The law that should protect the poor is the same one that oppresses and tramples on their rights. Therefore, this is a topic that ought to be considered with seriousness because of the vulnerability of the poor.
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Criminal law aims at maintaining social control and deterring crime. It is a sad fact that the criminal justice system in America is extremely biased, i.e. the social status and finances of a person highly determines whether he or she will be arrested, convicted and sentenced. Poor people have a higher chance of being arrested than the rich ones. According to CliffsNotes (2012), this is because poor people have the minimal privacy, making them more noticeable by the police, unlike wealthy people who are secluded at their homes and offices where they can commit crime unnoticed. Police officers also tend to evade arresting influential and affluent members of the society due to the fright of hassles and political pressure. In addition, favoritism witnessed during police training might cause police officers to blame crimes blindly on certain groups of people for instance, juvenile from poor backgrounds, as well as people of color.
Persons from poor economic backgrounds most of the times are unable to raise money for posting bail; hence they are forced to stay in jail to wait for their trial. This means that they cannot participate actively in their defense. The fact that such defendants who cannot pay for their bails are led by police officers upon entering the courtroom during trial, make them look guilty, thus may influence the decisions of the juries and judges. On the other hand, wealthy people who are able to post their own bail enter the courtroom just like any other national. According to CliffsNotes (2012), there is a high likelihood of defendants who post bail to be acquitted compared to their poor counterparts who cannot raise bail money. This means that a poor person may be jailed for a crime he never committed simply because he looks guilty to the judges.
In addition, all defendants are entitled to a legal counsel by the United States. However, there exists a high discrepancy in the quality of assistance given to the rich and poor people. For instance, the poor are given court-appointed legal representatives, who have a lot of cases to handle and may be receiving low wages. As a result, there is a high likelihood that these lawyers will handle their cases in a hasty manner due to the lack of enough time. Conversely, wealthy defendants recruit the teams of resourceful and skilled lawyers who, most of the time, ensure that a ruling is passed in favor of clients. As a result, poor people are at high risk of being found guilty even for crimes they never committed because their court-appointed lawyers lack the motivation and time to prepare their defense properly. In addition, they are given longer prison terms and tougher penalties than their affluent counterparts who have been convicted of similar crimes. In my opinion, this is terribly unfair; just because someone cannot afford to post bail does not make them guilty for crimes they are accused of. It matters not whether we are from poor or rich background, or black or white; all of us are human beings made in God's image, so why do we continue to witness such inequality between the rich and poor people? It is a sad fact that the law that should protect the interest of all people tend to favor the rich while oppressing the poor.
The long prison terms and tough penalties given to poor defendants have a significant impact on both them and their families. For instance, when a bread winner of the family is jailed, other family members are compelled by circumstances, to make adjustments to suit their current financial status. Imprisonment effects are likely to be brutal in poor developing nations where the government does not offer a financial support to the needed ones. The family of the imprisoned person is often left with numerous expenses to meet, which may be a strain to poor families. The costs not only include the upkeep costs of the prisoner, but also the indirect costs such as healthcare, social and economic related costs. In addition, because poor families have no income to make regular visits to their imprisoned relative, incarceration tends to weaken social cohesion and interrupt relationships. As a result, the family structure is disrupted, which in turn, negatively affects the relationship among couples, children and their parents. Even a following release, the former prisoner, is faced with the socio-economic exclusion due to their little or no employment prospects. Consequently, they become vulnerable to a never-ending poverty cycle, which might force them to commit a crime and be jailed again.
Even though, many people think of the United States as a perfect superior nation in the whole world, what they do not know is that some of its laws are extremely cruel to people who are poor, weak and homeless. For example, it is prohibited to be homeless in numerous cities in the United States. This means that poor individuals who are incapable of paying for rent or own homes have a high likelihood of being arrested by the police if found loitering on the streets. As a result of such a law, any person or business has a right to tell the police to arrest or remove a homeless person for being in places they are not needed, or just because they hate their looks or smell. What about the poor street children who do not have anywhere to go, should they be arrested for just for loitering? If you ask me, such violation of human rights is seriously gross and unwarranted. I am certain that poor people had the capability of having their own homes/ shelter, they would not wish to roam on their streets; therefore, it is not their wish. In addition, the US has not yet recovered from the 2008 economic meltdown that left its economy almost destroyed entirely and consequently, several jobs were lost. This explains why there are numerous poor, jobless people roaming on the streets. Instead of implementing such draconian laws that give police officers the right to arrest any homeless person, the US government ought to find ways of creating jobs for its citizens in order to enable such people to earn decent monthly income to be able to meet their needs, including having a home.
Loitering or sitting on the sidewalks is also outlawed within the cities of US. It is obvious that such a law targets homeless individuals (mainly street children) who loiter on the sidewalks as they beg for food or money. It should be understood that such individuals are either from extremely poor backgrounds, or are orphans and have no one to depend on; therefore, it is in those places that they find people to ask for help. Sadly, the police continues to mercilessly beat, kick, or harass them even with the knowledge that they poor and have nowhere to go. While businesses may reason that such loitering is unsuitable for business, it is exceedingly inhuman and inconsiderate to harass or even arrest a person just because they are sitting on the sidewalks. I am truly sure that middle-class or high-class citizens who are well dressed would not be arrested by the police for sitting on the sidewalks
Another thing is that poverty can make persons from poor backgrounds to seek for greener pastures in foreign countries via illegal means. While their intentions are to secure job opportunities that will enable them support their families back home illegal immigrants who are mostly escaping the harsh living conditions back home, are often mistaken for criminals in the foreign countries. This is because of the tough immigration laws in those countries. For instance, in April 2010, the Arizona Immigration Law (Law SB1070) took effect in Arizona State, in the United States. The law, which was seen as the toughest immigration law in the history of the U.S., provoked a national debate with some people strongly opposing the law, while others supporting it (Reuters, 2010). According to SB1070, it is a criminal offense to harbor illegal immigrants; it also requires immigrants to carry their documents wherever they go. The law gives police officers the power to stop and ask persons about their immigration status when there is a reasonable suspicion that a person is in the U.S. illegally, in the course of their traffic stops, or other actions aimed at enforcing the law (Archibold, 2010). With such a tough and inhuman law in place, poor people who are genuinely looking for work to better their lives are left with no choice, but to return to their respective countries if they do not want to face constant harassment from the police officers.
Though the justice system is meant to offer equal protection to all, it has been apparent throughout history that social class and wealth appreciably influence who gets justice. Wealthy people regardless of the crimes they have committed, tend to buy their freedom, while, on the other hand, poor people rot in jail even for the smallest crimes like stealing a dollar. For example, the case involving O.J. Simpson in the 1990s, in which everybody knew he was the real killer of Nicole. However, because of his millions of dollars, the former football star managed to employ one of the most effective, intimidating and expensive legal teams ever, who managed to prove him innocent (Parks, 2008).