In today's criminal justice system racial disparity is one of many problematic issues that need to be addressed. Many people want to believe or pretend that this problem does not exist, and they would rather do nothing to reduce it. Moreover, the problem is significant, and it can be proven. Many researches have been done over the years to prove that the problem of racial disparity in sentencing exists and that it can be reduced by taking proper steps.
According to Bruce (2001) "racial disparity in the criminal justice system exists when the proportion of a racial or ethnic group within the control of the system is greater than the proportion of such groups in the general population" (p. 1). Simply, racial disparity is a result of dissimilar treatment of similarly situated individuals where the only difference between them is a race.
Racial disparity is a known occurrence in sentencing. As Kansal (2005) stated "racial discrimination in sentencing today is often a more surreptitious process, manifesting itself in connection with other factors and producing racially discriminatory outcomes in certain situations" (p. 1). Many reasons of racial disparity in sentencing have been discussed over the years, and will continue to be discussed until the issue is resolved. The causes of racial disparity in sentencing are varied. These causes include jury selection, racism by jurors, prosecutorial discretion, and ineffective defense attorney representation.
The first reason for racial disparity in sentencing is caused by jury selection. During jury selection process potential jurors need to answer variety of questions. The answers to these questions are the deciding factor whether person will be excluded from the jury or not. The questioning is based on Witherspoon method. According to this method, those who would never be willing to impose death penalty or those who would always vote for death penalty after capital conviction will be automatically excluded from the jury. According to Tabak (1999) "questioning, conducted before the guilt or innocence phase of the trial, disproportionately leads to exclusion of African Americans, because a higher percentage of African Americans oppose the death penalty compared to the general public" (p. 6). As a result of African Americans elimination from the jury, the jury in cases that involve African American defendants is composed of mostly white jurors.