Friday, November 30, 2007

No Money? Who Cares?

Yesterday I commented here on the need for financial resources to level the playing field for the accused defended in the criminal justice system. This morning I ran across this review of a book by journalist Kevin Davis, entitled "Defending the Damned: Inside Chicago's Cook County Public Defender's Office." Davis wrote the book after shadowing the lawyers on Chicago's Murder Task Force, an elite office where the city's best public defenders represent defendant's in high-profile murder cases.

In his review, Radley Balko concluded:
Most people don’t care much for public defenders. The job is often despised not just by prosecutors, victims, and the public, but by defendants themselves, who see the lawyers as at best second-rate and at worst just another cog in a machine designed to crush them. Some don’t want a defense and can be openly hostile, even threatening. . . .

Prosecutors have police to investigate crimes, medical examiners and crime scene investigators to provide them with evidence, and considerably more support staff than public defenders do. The 1999 DOJ study, which seems to be the most recent one of the subject, found that prosecutors’ budgets exceeded public defense budgets by about 2.5 to 1. Indigent defendants don’t have their own forensics experts or private investigators, and courts aren’t always obliged to grant them taxpayer money to hire them. . .

If we’re serious about giving everyone a fair crack at justice, indigent defendants need access to the same sorts of resources prosecutors have, including their own independent experts and investigators. If we’re going to generously fund the government’s efforts to imprison people, we need to ensure that everyone the government pursues is adequately defended and protected from prosecutorial overreach. The ongoing stream of exonerations in felony cases suggests we’re a long way from that goal.
Again, more evidence - more grist for the mill - the playing field is lopsided in favor of the prosecution to the detriment of our system of criminal justice. No money? Davis found Chicago's best cared. He found an "unwavering dedication and passion among the task force attorneys, often to the detriment of their families, relationships, and health." I thank him for spending the time to understand them and the heart to write about his experience.

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