After Arrest, the Rich Can Buy the Outcome they Need
Historically, someone arrested for a crime would hire a lawyer to argue
their case in court. The rich can afford to pay for a more skilled criminal
defense attorney thereby increasing their odds of a good outcome. Today,
the government has an obligation to appoint a lawyer to defend the poor
in criminal court but this unfairness remains. If you're charged with
Grand Larceny, you might hire a lawyer who charges $100 per hour but you
might find a better lawyer who charges $500. If you are poor you may qualify
for the public defender (legal aid lawyer) who may be paid (by the State)
about $20 per hour. You get what you pay for. Lawyers, like doctors, actors,
and engineers, exist in a competitive marketplace and the more talented
they are, the more they charge. Your chance of getting your case dismissed,
avoiding a criminal record, or minimizing jail is higher if you hire the
expensive $500 lawyer, maybe lower with the $100 lawyer and lower yet
with the $20 (but free to you) public lawyer. Is this fair?
Generally, being poor protects you from being sued. No one is going to
sue you if you don't have that much money and if you are injured in
an accident, you can often get a lawyer to take the case on contingency
where the lawyer gets paid from the recovery. Criminal cases are different.
Many people who are arrested are struggling with financial problems because
the thing they were arrested for is often part of a larger psychological
or financial problem. For example, a drug addict will often lose his job,
marriage, belongings, and friends before being reduced to shoplifting
to support a drug habit or buying his drugs in the open on the street.
Many theft crimes are committed to support a drug problem that presupposes
all available money has been spent on drugs and isn't available for
a good criminal defense attorney. These unfortunate people who are suffering
from many complex problems are then referred to an overburdened legal
aid lawyer (free lawyer in court) that is barely able to engage in the
basics of criminal defense let alone tackle the complex social issues
that their clients are suffering from.
Perhaps taxpayers should pay $500 per hour for the expensive and talented
lawyers rather than $20 per hour for public defenders to avoid the probability
of a wrongful conviction. This is a very similar problem that exists in
medicine when dealing with the reality that the rich will generally purchase
the better doctors, medicine, and medical technology, leaving the poor
to fight over sparse and inadequate leftovers. We all want the best for
ourselves and our loved ones so if money is no object, we'd all want
the best expert money can buy so you can't really blame the rich for
demanding the best. Still, a fair alternative is elusive.
Over the past 4 decades, the public has happily spent increasing amounts
of money to better fund prosecutors, judges, and prisons while avoiding
spending on public defenders. The system is completely designed to convict
and imprison you unless you can afford to pay for proper representation.
The solution should be simple. The standard for the kind of lawyer we
should all have at our side should be the same quality and caliber that
the rich would want by their side. Until then, the poor will fall farther
and farther behind.