Thursday, June 29, 2017

The Best Justice Money And Influence Can Buy

When in legal trouble, it helps to be rich (and 
the chair of the House Judiciary Committee).
Back in April, our congressman Bob Goodlatte was charged with driving at the speed of 69 mph in a 35 mph school zone on U.S. 29 near Lovingston.

According to the Roanoke Times, Goodlatte's wife, Maryellen, a business and real estate attorney, persuaded the court to reduce her busy husband's charge to "driving with a defective speedometer". For this he paid over $300 in fine and court costs, but avoided having any points added to his driving record. 

Meanwhile, the Times reports that the alleged problem with the speedometer was never actually verified, and there is no record of it ever being repaired. But it turns out it isn't at all uncommon in some jurisdictions to give drivers with a good record that kind of break. 

On one condition. You have to be able to afford an attorney. Otherwise you're at the mercy of the judge, according to the Times.

Of course we know it's hard to get any kind of break in court if you can't afford competent counsel. Thus individuals are likely to be sentenced with fines and/or jail time far in excess of those with good representation.

It's true that the poor are often provided court appointed attorneys, typically less experienced and underpaid. But these will more often than not want to save themselves a lot of time and effort by urging their client to accept a plea deal, persuading them that it is in their best interest to plead guilty to a lesser charge and in some cases hope they will get by with the time served while waiting for their hearing. Without the threat of stiffer sentences which in effect force defendants to accept such deals, our courts would be hopelessly overwhelmed with cases.

Where an individual faces a serious felony charge, the stakes and the consequences can be truly grave.

Judge Jed S. Rakoff, in an article in The New York Review of Books titled "Why Innocent People Plead Guilty," states that, of the 2.2 million Americans now in prison well over two million are there as a result of plea bargains dictated by government prosecutors. Rakoff adds, "The Supreme Court’s suggestion that a plea bargain is a fair and voluntary contractual arrangement between two relatively equal parties is a total myth: it is much more like a “contract of adhesion” in which one party can effectively force its will on the other party."

This is surely a far cry from the original vision of the founders, who in the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution sought to guarantee that "in all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury.

This should be true for rich and poor, powerless and powerful, alike.
Post a Comment