The Effect of Social Class on the Adjudication of Criminal Cases: Class‐linked Behavior Tendencies, Common Sense, and the Interpretive Procedures of Court‐appointed Defense Attorneys


This article addresses some important issues concerning the effect of social class on criminal case outcomes. Although the findings reported here support Donald Black's (1989) argument that a defendant's relative social class effects the quantity of law applied to a criminal case, they also indicate that this influence occurs through actors' interpretive procedures. Specifically, one group of court‐appointed defense attorneys link behavior tendencies to court actors characterized as different social class types. These behavior tendencies are expressed through the grammar and rhetoric of “common sense”—a knowledge system which is evoked throughout all types of judicial proceedings. The attorneys' expectations of court actors shape their behavior such that lower‐class defendants are likely to endure a greater quantity of law. The article concludes with some suggestions on how researchers might reconsider studying the effect of social class on criminal case outcomes.


Sociology and Anthropology

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Symbolic Interaction