Op/Ed By Daphne Ramsey –
When two people are charged with similar crimes, shouldn’t their punishments also be similar? What’s the difference when one of the accused is a young man born into a privileged, well-connected family and the other is not?
Apparently, in Onondaga County, it’s the difference between a young black man who was sentenced to six years in prison after being charged with sexual assault, and the Deputy Comptroller in Onondaga County who was charged with a similar crime in 2001, but instead headed off to law school in Florida rather than to state prison.
Researchers, advocacy groups, and the U.S. Department of Justice have been attempting to address the problem of harsher sentencing for blacks who’ve committed the same crimes as whites for decades, but to no avail.
In fact, Florida’s Sarasota Herald Tribune recently exposed the fact that African-American defendants still typically receive almost twice as much time behind bars as whites with identical criminal histories.
And, in cases where such bias occurs, unfortunately the results may lead to extremely different outcomes for the individuals who’ve been charged with similar crimes.
Case in point: The aforementioned 32-year-old black male was charged and convicted of sexual assault—a crime he says he did not commit—and has recently been taken back into police custody due to a parole violation, after a brief stint working as a technician at Delta Sonic.
The Syracuse native was convicted of committing the assault against a 17-year-old young woman in 2012; although he said he’d actually been in a relationship with his accuser at the time, and she misrepresented her age and said she was 20.
Subsequently, the young man’s court-appointed lawyer convinced him to plead guilty to the charge, which resulted in a minimum three-and-a-half-year prison sentence, instead of risking the receipt of an even longer sentence at trial, should a jury not believe him.
The young man was also sentenced to ten years of parole, as part of the plea deal, and was required to register as a sex offender.
Today, the young black man is back in prison, after missing his 8 p.m. curfew, violating a rule that is strictly enforced by his parole officer. He is not allowed to leave the state to visit his mother and he is prohibited from attending events at his children’s school because of his sex offender status.
On the contrary, the white county official who was charged with Rape and Sexual Abuse a few years earlier was given the opportunity to negotiate a much better plea bargain, which ultimately reduced his crimes to a charge of attempted sexual misconduct.
The county official pleaded guilty to the lesser charge, following allegations that, as a college student, he’d attempted to have sexual intercourse with an 18-year-old female who, at the time, was physically incapacitated by alcohol, unconscious, “physically helpless, and unable to give consent,” according to court documents.
Basically, the appointed official received a slap on the wrist, with the D.A. recommending he receive “no worse than probation,” and a “three-year, no-contact order of protection” for the victim, the documents said.
The situation now begs the question: should the young black male, who may sit in jail for a few more years because of even the smallest mistake, have to pay the current consequences for the crime which he’s committed?
Yes, of course he should.
However, that young black male shouldn’t have to pay a much harsher penalty than the county official who’s been appointed to the upper ranks of the comptroller’s office, simply because the official was born into a political family that produced judges and elected officials, and even the woman who oversees the juries in our criminal justice system.
Consequently, the only logical conclusion that can be drawn from these two parallel cases, which have resulted in alarmingly dissimilar outcomes, is that the white county official has received preferential treatment.
These two individuals have clearly not been given the same chance to be judged equally in our criminal justice system, which is another case of blatant inequality; one in which two defendants – one black and one white, one who is privileged, and one who is not – have received biased, disparate sentences based on their race and social statuses.
With the Deputy Comptroller having exploited his privilege with the court system once already, it is especially concerning now that the County Comptroller is accused of violating the civil rights of minority contractors employed by Onondaga County. In his recent decision to deny the comptroller’s attempt to get the charges dismissed, Federal Judge Fred Scullin wrote “In sum, Plaintiffs have adequately alleged a factual basis that supports a reasonable inference that Defendant Antonacci intentionally discriminated against them because of their race. Therefore, the court denies Defendant Antonacci’s motion to dismiss.”
CNY Vision will stay tuned.
(Disclaimer: The views expressed on our opinion pages are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the position or viewpoint of CNY Vision.)