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Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions

Floor Speech

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Location: Washington, DC


STATEMENTS ON INTRODUCED BILLS AND JOINT RESOLUTIONS -- (Senate - July 10, 2008)

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By Mr. BIDEN (for himself, Mr. Specter, Mr. Cardin, and Mr. Kerry):

S. 3245. A bill to increase public confidence in the justice system and address any unwarranted racial and ethnic disparities in the criminal process; to the Committee on the Judiciary.

Mr. BIDEN. Mr. President, the Constitution guarantees all Americans the right to the equal protection of the law. Nowhere is the guarantee of equal protection more important than in our criminal justice system. In a criminal justice system that imprisons a record 2.3 million, even the perception of bias on the basis of race, ethnicity, or any other protected class is unacceptable and should be guarded against at all costs.

Unfortunately, studies, reports, and case law from the last several years have documented racial disparities during many of the stages of the criminal justice system--law enforcement contact with a suspect, arrest, charging, plea bargaining, jury selection, and sentencing. Nowhere are the effects of these racial disparities more evident than in our prisons. By some estimates, nearly three-quarters of prisoners in the United States are either African-American or Hispanic. One of every three African-American men born today can expect to go to prison in his lifetime. These numbers, and studies and reports that show similar disparities during other stages of the criminal justice process, engender a crisis of public trust in the integrity of our criminal justice system and raise the possibility that we are failing to make good on the constitutional promise of equal protection.

Both the reality and the perception of inappropriate disparate treatment of minorities in the justice system erode respect for the law and undermine public safety.

Communities become increasingly reluctant to report crimes to and cooperate with police and prosecutors. They become reluctant to participate in juries and, when they do participate, to vote for conviction where the defendant is a minority. To fulfill the promise of the Constitution, and to effectively fight crime and deliver impartial justice, it is essential to identify and address unjustified disparities in the criminal justice system.

The Justice Integrity Act establishes a pilot program within the Justice Department to identify and eliminate unjustified disparities in the administration of justice. Ten U.S. Attorneys designated by the Attorney General will each appoint and chair an advisory group, composed of Federal and State prosecutors and defenders, private defense counsel, Federal and State judges, correctional officers, victims' rights representatives, Civil Rights organizations, business representatives and faith-based organizations engaged in criminal justice work.

The advisory group will systematically gather and examine data regarding the criminal process in its district and seek to determine the causes of any racial or ethnic disparity. The advisory group will produce a report on its findings and recommend a plan to reduce any unwarranted racial and ethnic disparities and thereby increase public confidence in the criminal justice system. The U.S. Attorney will consider the advisory group's recommendations and adopt a plan and submit a report to the Attorney General. At the end of the pilot program, the Attorney General will produce a comprehensive report to Congress on the results of the pilot program in all ten districts and recommend best-practices.

The Justice Integrity Act has been endorsed by the National Criminal Justice Association, The Sentencing Project, the American Bar Association, and a number of former United States Attorneys. I am proud to introduce this important bill with the support of my colleagues and friends--Senators Arlen Specter, John Kerry, and Ben Cardin. We urge other members to join us.

Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the text of the bill be printed in the Record.

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