TIPPECANOE COUNTY, Ind. (WLFI) — One Lafayette lawyer is looking to provide solutions to the racial disparities that can happen within the court system. Lawyer Kirk Freeman of Kirk Freeman Law in Lafayette is proposing that local courts adopt a rule that would require creating a racial-tracking metric. This metric would work as a record to help easily identify if certain ethnic groups are facing unequal treatment in the justice system.
"If the Chief Justice of Indiana acknowledges that there's a problem, there is a problem," said Freeman. "Different categories of citizens are being treated differently, that's the problem. How do we fix the problem? Well, we fix the problem by identifying it."
Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Loretta Rush released the statement above touching on the issues of racism within the criminal justice system. Part of the statement includes a call to actions for courts across the state.
Freeman said to fix the problem locally, we first have to diagnose it.
"I propose that we start keeping track of numbers throughout the timeline of the criminal case then you can point along the timeline where the racial disparity is and more importantly what you can do to fix it," said Freeman.
Ethnicity is recorded as soon as a person is booked in jail. However, Freeman said it's difficult for attorneys to obtain racial information after a case has gone through trial. When he's tried to research the ethnicity of a people in former cases, he said the courts often have trouble finding it.
"I want something concrete, rather than this vague 'we don't know anything about it' and allow the prosecution to hide in the midst of not knowing," said Freeman.
He said without solid numbers it's hard to know if racial-disparities are actually taking place in the Tippecanoe County court system but from his experience, he has felt uneasy with certain sentencing decisions.
"I think every criminal defense attorney has had that feeling in their stomach like 'wait a minute, why is this case being prosecuted? It's obvious that there is no crime here,' this is either a political or some alterer motive, and every criminal defense attorney has said 'Woah, Woah' why is my guy's bond so high," said Freeman. "In my years of practice, I have seen a pattern of specific individuals, African-American males where this has happened, time after time after time again."
Freeman said having a way to track racial information could be a way to ensure those who find themselves in the criminal justice system won't be treated differently because of their race. Overall, he hoping this rule can help pinpoint exactly where racial-injustices are happening so the courts can work to improve that area.
"We have to see where the initial problem is," said Freeman. "Is it in the traffic stop, is it in the arrest, is it in the initial charges, is it in the setting of the bond, is it in the plea agreement, is it in the use of sentencing enhancements, is it in the sentence? Where is it is? It's not right that certain categories — any categories of citizen suffer an injustice. I don't think we can remain silent."