The impacts of drug and alcohol use on sentencing for First Nations and non-Indigenous defendants

Velazquez, Marisela, Petray, Theresa L., and Miles, Debra (2024) The impacts of drug and alcohol use on sentencing for First Nations and non-Indigenous defendants. Race and Justice, 14 (2). pp. 124-145.

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This paper examines the ways personal use of illicit substances and alcohol are constructed as either mitigating or aggravating factors to explain offending. We consider the differential constructions of these factors for people who appear in supreme and district courts in northern Queensland, Australia, for offences involving illicit substance use, alcohol use, drug-related offences, and violence. Qualitative analysis of courtroom observations is understood through the lens of Critical Race Theory (CRT). Our findings reveal that personal use of illicit substances was primarily constructed by legal practitioners as an indicator of disadvantaged circumstances when discussing non-Indigenous defendants. In these cases, drug use was connected to other disadvantages such as poor mental health, physical pain, and trauma. In contrast, alcohol use was primarily raised as an aggravating factor for First Nations defendants, constructed by legal practitioners as a personal flaw linked to violent offending, and overshadowed the interrelated disadvantages that many First Nations defendants experience. This reflects social attitudes about First Nations people, reinforces individualistic explanations for offending patterns, and points to the institutional racism embedded in the structural processes of Queensland's higher courts that continues to profoundly impact First Nations people.

Item ID: 71329
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 2153-3687
Keywords: First Nations, critical race theory, mitigating and aggravating factors, substance use, systemic racism, supreme and district courts
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Date Deposited: 16 May 2022 04:19
FoR Codes: 44 HUMAN SOCIETY > 4402 Criminology > 440203 Courts and sentencing @ 40%
45 INDIGENOUS STUDIES > 4505 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, society and community > 450525 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander sociology @ 40%
44 HUMAN SOCIETY > 4410 Sociology > 441099 Sociology not elsewhere classified @ 20%
SEO Codes: 21 INDIGENOUS > 2101 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community services > 210102 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander development and wellbeing @ 50%
23 LAW, POLITICS AND COMMUNITY SERVICES > 2304 Justice and the law > 230403 Criminal justice @ 50%
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