It is obvious that significant improvements have been made in the way that the criminal justice system deals with Blacks during the history of the United States. Blacks have not always been afforded a right to trial, not to mention a fair one. Additionally, for years, Blacks were unable to serve on juries, clearly affecting the way both Blacks and whites were tried. Much of this improvement has been achieved through various court decisions, and other improvements have been made through federal and state legislatures. Despite these facts, the development of the legal system with regard to race seems to have become stagnant.
Few in this country would argue with the fact that the United States criminal justice system possesses discrepancies which adversely affect Blacks in this country. Numerous studies and articles have been composed on the many facets in which discrimination, or at least disparity, is obvious. Even whites are forced to admit that statistics indicate that the Black community is disproportionately affected by the American legal system. Controversy arises when the issue of possible causes of, and also solutions to, these variations are discussed.
Although numerous articles and books have been published devising means by which to reduce variance within the system, the most recent, and probably most contentious, is that of Paul Butler, Associate Professor of Law, George Washington University Law School, and former Special Assistant United States Attorney in the District of Columbia. Butler's thesis, published in an article in the Yale Law Journal, is that "for pragmatic and political reasons, the black community is better off when some nonviolent lawbreakers remain in the community rather than go to prison. The decision as to what kind of conduct by African-Americans ought to be punished is better made by African-Americans themselves."1 The means by which Butler proposes for Blacks to implement these decisions is termed jury nullification. By placing the race of the defendant above the facts of the case, and thus producing either an acquittal or a hung jury, Butler hopes that Blacks will be able to keep a large portion of Black males out of prison.
Although several commentators have voiced criticisms with the ideas of Professor Butler, most of these criticisms focus on what is best for the American legal system, what legal precedents dictate, or as is most often the case, on what is "right." It is, however, negligent to simply focus on these issues when examining the proposal of Professor Butler. Instead criticism and analysis must be based upon what is best for the Black community in this country. From this perspective it becomes clear that although race-based jury nullification has many attractive features, it must be modified to be truly beneficial.
The first step in analyzing Butler's conception of jury nullification is to examine problems which Butler claims cause a need for a solution. These problems are flaws in the criminal justice system, intrinsic or otherwise, which present themselves as disparities in treatment of whites and Blacks. In any policy discussion, formulation of a plausible and effective solution clearly must be based upon the nature of the problem. Butler lists many examples of racism in the criminal justice system, but many are simply specific cases meant to illustrate his point. Although these cases are important, they are nearly impossible to discuss in a general examination of discrimination in the justice system because specific cases do not necessarily entail widespread discrimination. However, Butler does cite past and contemporary administration of the death penalty, disparities between punishments for white-collar crimes and punishments for other crimes, more severe penalties for crack cocaine users than for powder cocaine users, and the high rate of incarceration of African-American men.2 All arguments regarding Butler's thesis must be framed within the context of these problems, if not directly addressing them.
Although Butler lists it last, he does note that the problem of high incarceration rates among Black males is the one noted most frequently. This problem is one which is essential to the discussion of jury nullification, and should be explored specifically for a number of reasons. First, whatever the reason, the number of Black men in prison is frighteningly high. One out of every twelve black males in their 20s is in prison or jail. Additionally, there are seven Black males in