Hernandez vs. Texas and its Importance to Latinos in the U.S.
Studies conducted in the past have clearly indicated that some racial groups are overrepresented in the U.S. criminal justice system. There have been claims that some stages of the criminal justice system disadvantage some groups, with some of the disadvantaged groups being Asian-Americans, Hispanics, and African-Americans. This text largely concerns itself with the U.S. Supreme court ruling of Hernandez vs. Texas, a landmark Court ruling that has had a significant impact on the civil rights of Mexican-Americans. In so doing, it will, amongst other things, speculate on the relevance of this particular court ruling to Latinos in the U.S.
In basic terms, the Hernandez case "involved the exclusion of Mexican-Americans from serving as jurors, which, like voting, is a primary duty and privilege of U.S. citizenship" (Soltero, 2009, p. 38). Accused of murdering Joe Espinoza, Hernandez was indicted by a grand jury whose members were all white. The attorneys of the accused tried their best to ensure that the indictment was quashed with the claim that in addition to being barred from the judge-selecting jury commission, Mexican-Americans were also excluded in petit juries. The accused person's attorneys also raised concern that no person of Mexican descent was, in this particular case, serving in the jury. This exclusion was used by the attorneys of the accused as the basis of the claim that there was systematic discrimination of citizens of Mexican ancestry as a special class. The motions were denied by the trial court and the accused promptly sentenced to life imprisonment by the all-white jury (Soltero, 2009).
On appeal, Hernandez's pleas were rejected by Texas' highest criminal court on the basis that Mexicans were essentially "white people of Spanish descent" (in distinction to those from the 'Negro Race') and could, therefore, not be categorized as a special race (Soltero, 2009, p. 39). With this, the court pointed out that "since other white people served on the juries, the absence of people of Mexican ancestry did not violate equal protection" (Soltero, 2009, p. 38). As per the decision, therefore, Mexicans could not be put under the 'special class' banner as encapsulated in the U.S. Constitution's Fourth Amendment. On this front, the key query or issue of concern remained: was making use of a jury that deliberately excluded members of a particular ancestry or race to try an individual that came from the excluded ancestry or race a breach of the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment? In a unanimous decision reached by the Supreme Court, other racial groups that existed in communities, beyond the two under consideration (i.e. Negros and whites), were also protected by the Fourteenth Amendment. More specifically, the court found that "the Fourteenth Amendment is not directed solely against discrimination due to a two-class theory' -- that is, based upon differences between 'white' and Negro" (Garc'a, 2009, p. 180).
Factors Impacting on the Latina/o Experience in the Criminal Justice System and their Relevance to the Topic
The Latina's experience in the American criminal justice system is impacted upon by a wide range of economic, social, political, as well as legal factors. Two of these include racial profiling and diminished educational and economic opportunities.
Racial Profiling and Stereotypes: for a long time, the issue of racial profiling has largely been discussed in terms of back and white. Essentially, racial profiling could assume many forms. Essentially, it involves the utilization of either the ethnicity or race of an individual as the basis for some decision by law enforcement personnel. For instance, in this case, law enforcement could use the ethnic extract or race of an individual to make a decision on whether or not to partake in some enforcement duty, i.e. arrest or search. According to Levin in Alvarez (as cited in Cyndi, 2009), Latinos are not only thought by most to be lazy, but also sneaky and thieving. For this reason, "law enforcement practices and the criminal justice system have been shown to collaborate in discrimination against Latinos in the form of police harassment of Mexican-Americans" (Cyndi, 2009, p. 67). As recently as the year 2003, university professors hired by the DOJ came to the conclusion that Latino drivers were actively being profiled by law enforcement officers in Alamance Country. This was widely reported in the media.
Many witnesses have, in the past, reported that a number of law enforcement agencies such as the LAPD have well-entrenched practices that condone the harassment of minorities (The Sentencing Project, 2013). This is particularly the case when it comes to the detention of Latino and African-American men whose description fits that of subjects (Cyndi, 2009). Specifically, the LAPD has been accused of employing "invasive humiliating tactics against minorities in minority neighborhoods" (Cyndi, 2009, p. 67).
Essentially, manifestations of Latinos stereotypical representations could be found in literature, common talk, the mass media, etc. It is important to note that there are numerous depictions of Latin America that have been put forward in works of fiction. These, most times, are mere stereotypes that have their basis on misconceptions. Stereotyping is so severe with regard to Latinos that they unfortunately "suffer from an aggregation of negative stereotypes experienced by both African-Americans and Asian-Americans" (Delgado and Stefancic, 2000, p. 207). At the basic level, they are seen as immigrants, outsiders, or foreigners (Delgado and Stefancic, 2009). Stereotyping on this front could sink to the point whereby all Latinos are simply seen as illegal immigrants -- such that those whose English has some Spanish accent are associated with illegal immigration (Delgado and Stefancic, 2000).
It is also important to note that "like African-Americans, Latinos suffer from a Latino-as-criminal stereotype" (Delgado and Stefancic, 2000, 207). As the authors further point out, this particular kind of stereotyping is largely age and gender specific, with a majority of those affected being young male Latinos. Such individuals, according to the authors, "are assumed to be gang members, particularly if they live in a low-income high-crime neighborhood and wear baggy pants and T-shirts" (Delgado and Stefancic, 2000, p. 207).
Yet another stereotype which is worth mentioning here is that which portrays Latinos, particularly men, as being hot tempered. According to Delgado and Stefancic (2000), this particular stereotype casts Latinos as 'macho.' In this case, Latinos are presented as people who are easily motivated to engage in violence as a means of venting out their anger. In the words of Delgado and Stefancic (2000, p. 208), in quite a number of cases, "Latinos have been shot, beaten, and/or killed by citizens or police officers claiming justifiable use of deadly force under circumstances calling into question whether the use of deadly force was truly warranted." It is for this same reason that it has been argued that Latinos are profiled.
Diminished Educational and Economic Opportunities: there are a wide range of reasons as to why Latinos do not reach collage at a rate that is similar to that of their white counterparts. According to Schhneider, Martinez, and Ownes (2006), "many Hispanic students begin formalized schooling without the economic and social resources that many other students receive, and schools are often ill equipped to compensate for these initial disparities." The lack of the said social and economic resources often emanates from their parent's lack of the relevant information regarding the U.S. system of education and their status as immigrants having limited access to resources.
As a result, many Latinos end up performing poorly or dropping out of school -- thereby jeopardizing their chance of joining college. Further, like other Hispanics, Latinos -- in comparison to whites -- are likely to attend schools whose curriculum is less demanding, expectations are lower, teachers are less qualified, etc. These schools are not held in high regard, and as a result, it becomes extremely hard for those who have attended the said schools to secure acceptance to colleges.
Those who fail to secure college admission or fail to graduate from high school find their future aspirations and prospects dimmed, with the criminal economy in most cases being the only logical alternative to eke out a living. For obvious reasons, those who choose to go this route often end up in prison. It is, however, important to note that not all choose this route. Others seek out, and often find, legitimate ways of eking out living. However, the fact that a slim minority of Latinos embrace the crime enterprise is often enough to result in the criminalization of the entire community.
The Relevance of the Topic to an Area of Major Importance to Latino/s in their Interaction with the U.S. Criminal Justice System
The one major area of importance to Latinos that is addressed by the case and subject matter is fair trial. The relevance of ensuring that legal proceedings are fairly conducted cannot be overstated. As a matter of fact, this is an issue that has a bearing on the efficiency of our country's criminal justice system. According to Bado (2013), both the assurance, as well…