Date of this Version
This article originally appeared in Habeas Corps, the newsletter of The Nebraska Criminal Defense Attorneys Association. Reprinted with permission.
"And now it's just as bad far young black women or women of color as it is for men ...to have a public defender who is so unprepared, uncaring, and really, unsuitable, to stand before a judge, and then you have a prosecutor who comes in ... and they sit at their table and the snickering, the way the attitude that they go and handle a case (shows) no respect for the individual or for the system.”
The above quote comes from public hearing testimony before the Nebraska Minority and Justice Task Force preceding the issuance of their final report. Similar comments were heard at a number of public hearings around the state.
At first, for those of us who are prosecutors and criminal defense attorneys and members of the Task Force, such comments (as well as some of the task force findings) made us feel uncomfortable at the very least, and sometimes downright defensive. Eventually, we came to realize that, as difficult as it is to talk about race and justice in America, it is vitally important that we do so for a number of reasons. This is especially true for those of us who hold a public trust as prosecutors and those of us who are appointed to act as zealous advocates for individual clients to fulfill the promise of their constitutional right to the effective assistance of counsel. In this article, we will provide you with background on the Minority and Justice Task Force, outline some of their key findings and explain why prosecutors and criminal defense attorneys should not only care about the issues but should become active in addressing solutions to the problems.