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Equal Before the Law?

June 10, 2009

Some sociologists contend that people are not treated equally in our court systems. They hold that a person’s education, sex, income, and age are factors which might influence whether they are arrested, what they are charged with, whether they are convicted, and the severity of punishment. An example might be a speeding ticket. A ticket with a $250 fine might be a bigger punishment for a person who makes $15,000 a year than for someone who makes $350,000 a year. This might suggest a person’s income should be taken into account when determining a fine.

I guess you have to be looking at your speedometer and your dashboard clock on this road.

I guess you have to be looking at your speedometer and your dashboard clock on this road.

The associated press reported that in Helsinki, Finland, a man was fined $103,000 for doing 46.5 MPH in a 30 MPH zone. The speeder’s fine was not determined based on the severity of his crime, but on his income. In 1999, the driver reportedly made $5.2 million as a executive of a large corporation. The courts later reduced to the fine to $5,245, but many Finns were upset. They charged that people are not being treated equally by the Finland court system! Some members of Finland’s Parliament are demanding the processes of determining fines should be changed. They contend that no matter who you are, you should be treated equally under the law—sex, race, age,and income should not matter!

What do you think? Would you like to post a response to this article? If so, select a topic from below:

1. Do you think people are affected differently by laws based upon social characteristics such as race, age, sex, education, or income? If so, do you think the law should take these characteristics into account when determining if someone should be arrested, fined, or jailed? Why?

2. What would be some advantages and disadvantages of applying Finland’s approach to calculating speeding fines in America? What would be some advantages and disadvantages of applying it to more serious crimes such as drug sales?

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