Wednesday, September 18, 2013

We Can't Afford Star-Studded Defenses for Obvious Killers and Crooks

85-year-old former Alcatraz alum and Boston mobster Whitey Bulger was recently caught and tried for the murder of 17 people.  There wasn't much doubt that he was guilty (of at least a few).  After all, you hear of the occasional wrongful conviction, but I don't think any innocent people have spent 12 years on the FBI's 10 Most Wanted List.  Yet we still had to finance a public defense to the tune of $2.6M and counting.  Assuming the prosecution cost a similar amount, that's like $5M for a trial that was less about whether Whitey Bulger was guilty and more about whether he was a "rat".  What a waste of money.  I kid you not - we have an appeal to look forward to as well. 

Boston bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev will undoubtedly rack up a pretty penny in public defense funds as well.  Unless some radical Islamist group picks up the tab, I can't imagine who else will, besides you and me.  Multiple death penalty lawyers are being eyed for his dream defense team (link).

Given the endless littany of Sequestration cuts, including air traffic controllers, meat inspectors, national parks and on and on, let's think about redefining what a public defense should entail.  I'm thinking it should be limited to a newly minted law school graduate looking to accumulate some experience and build a resume.  If that were the case, I think more people would reconsider that automatic not-guilty plea or pony up some of their own money towards their defense.  A prime example would be our esteemed Speaker of the House here in Massachusetts who was recently tried and convicted for taking a kickback from a corporate crony - all on the public dime.  I suspect he was far from destitute, though.  A rock solid public defense is one of those expenditures, though, that I think our government representatives will take a long time to come around to reforming.  After all, 95% of them are lawyers themselves and these trials are a cash cow for their buddies.

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