Justice has never been blind when it comes to race in America. This realty is a searing and ever-present thought in the minds of Albert Joseph Moyer IV and his family as he awaits sentencing in a Riverside County jail on six felony counts, including Attempted Involuntary Manslaughter, related to a 2013 incident of domestic violence. Despite Moyer’s conviction, questions remain regarding his innocence as a result of evidence that jurors were not allowed to hear at trial.
Although Moyer has no previous felony convictions which should weigh in his favor, that reality provides little solace while he anxiously awaits the judge’s decision, mindful the odds are against him. As a special report on sentencing by Florida’s Herald Tribune titled, Bias on the Bench noted, “Blacks were first at the mercy of slave masters. Then came Jim Crow segregation and the Ku Klux Klan. Now, prejudice wears a black robe.”
It’s been half a century since the Civil Rights movement, yet blacks are still sentenced to harsher punishment than whites and it not only happens in Florida. A report released in June 2016, by the Sentencing Project titled, The Color of Justice: Racial and Ethnic Disparity in State Prison, confirmed this.
According to the report, “African Americans are incarcerated in state prisons across the country at more than five times the rate of whites, and at least ten times the rate in at least five states. As noted in the report, “The particular drivers of disparity may be related to policy, offending, implicit bias, or some combination.”
Regardless of what has driven this phenomenon, the reality should not only be disturbing to African Americans and Hispanic communities impacted by such disparities but to all members of a civil society that professes to rest on the foundation of equal justice under the law. A question posed in the report really helped drive home this point, “One has to wonder whether there would have been more of an urgency to understand and remedy the disparity directly had the ratios been reversed?”
The truth is the racial disparity in regard to incarceration has been baked into the criminal justice system for generations and according to the Sentencing Project, California is among the top ten states in the nation with the highest black/white differential.
Analyses from a number of studies have reached very similar conclusions—”a sizable proportion of racial disparities in prison cannot be explained by criminal offending.” Dozens of studies have identified three recurrent explanations. Firstly, policies and practices that drive disparity; the role of implicit bias and stereotypes in decision making; and finally, structural disadvantages in minority communities that are associated with high rates of criminal activity.
The report also highlighted multiple points in the criminal justice system where race seems to play a role, and how such disparities mount as individuals like Moyer, are pushed through the criminal justice process. This normally begins at the point of arrest, as noted in previous reports in the Voice regarding the Moyer case, to the final point of sentencing and imprisonment— where Moyer currently stands at the threshold.
On February 27, 2017, the California Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) issued an Overview of Felony Sentencing in California. The report referred to the “sentencing triad” applied under determinate sentencing (where individuals, like Moyer, receive fixed terms and are released after serving those terms). Under determinate sentencing, statue specifies low, medium and high terms of incarceration, known as the “sentencing triad,” presents sentencing options for each offense. For example, first-degree burglary is punishable by a term of two, four or six years.
According to the LAO, individuals like Moyer, who are convicted of multiple offenses, receive terms for each offense and can be required to serve them consecutively or concurrently. In determining whether terms must be served consecutively, various criteria are considered, such as whether the crimes were committed at different times or places.
For consecutive terms, offenders generally serve an amount of time equal to one of the triad terms for the offense that would yield the longest term. In addition, they must serve one-third of the middle triad term for each of the other offense. However, if an offender is allowed to serve the terms concurrently, they will only serve an amount of time equal to one of triads in the longest term.
Albert Moyer III, father of the accused noted how the judge in his son’s case had stated, “that the lesser charges would run concurrent.” Meanwhile, the District Attorney purportedly told Moyer’s attorney Acer Chiang, he planned to ask for the maximum sentence of ten years.
Individuals like Moyer who have no previous felony conviction can, “generally be sentenced to county jail and could be required to serve part of their sentence being supervised in the community by county probation.” Sentencing in the Moyer case will be rendered in the Riverside Superior Court on Tuesday, November 14.
Moyer III expressed sentiments echoed by African American fathers and mothers around the nation, “that the punishment should fit the crime.”
From the beginning of this case, it appeared Moyer was set up for failure and conviction. It began with the action/inaction of the officers on the scene who never tested either the victim or the accused for alcohol/drug consumption although they both admitted to drinking, who also failed to test the blood splatters found throughout the apartment, and never weighed the version of events provided by Moyer in their decision to arrest Moyer rather than both or the alleged victim, even though Moyer had lacerations to his face and required medical attention while the alleged victim refused medical care.
Next, the district attorney stacked on a plethora of felony charges with overlapping definitions, in an attempt, as it appeared to many, to secure a conviction at any cost, particularly after Moyer was offered and refused two plea deals only to have the District Attorney subsequently up the ante to include the charge of Attempted Murder.
Next, the judge allowed the alleged victim’s testimony at the preliminary hearing to be entered in evidence during Moyer’s trial even though the alleged victim’s statements during that testimony contradicted previous statements she had given to police/investigators and because she is now deceased, Moyer’s attorney could not cross examine her. On the other hand, the judge would not allow any evidence regarding the alleged victim’s abuse of prescription and street drugs and alcohol abuse; or records of her hospitalization for the same; or official records of her arrest history for the same aberrant and aggressive behaviors Moyer always claimed caused him to react to her unexpected attack in self-defense.
Finally, there is the jury’s verdict. At least two jurors reported confusion in relation to the number of charges that appeared, from a layperson’s perspective, to overlap and as a result, felt compelled to find him guilty on most counts because of the similarities in the charges. In addition, according to one juror, although the judge was asked for clarity—it was not provided.
Moyer’s future hangs in the balance of a tilted judicial system. As indicated in The Color of Justice Report, an abundance of research has confirmed beliefs about how, “dangerousness and threats to public safety overlap with individual perceptions about people of color.”
Research has found that, “assumptions by key decision makers in the justice system influence outcomes in a biased manner.” Also, research on pre-sentence reports revealed that people of color are frequently given harsher sanctions because they are perceived as, imposing a greater threat to public safety and are therefore deserving of greater social control and punishment.”
The data speaks for itself. Although African Americans are less than 14 percent of the nation’s population, the Bureau of Justice Statistics reported Blacks represent fully 38 percent of the nation’s state prison populations.
The Moyer family is determined their loved one must not become another statistic in a criminal justice system never designed to render justice to Black men.