Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Justice for all--if they have the scratch

For many years, middle class Americans have been vaguely aware of how poor, uneducated people get railroaded by the legal system, with overburdened public defenders mainly there to propose plea bargains because prosecutors routinely amp up the charges to terrify defendants--it's a well-oiled conviction machine.

What the middle class has not faced is the fact that if they are accused of a serious crime, whether they're guilty or not, it will take their life savings--including selling their house--to mount a competent legal defense.

They tell themselves "It can't happen to me." And mainly it doesn't. But no one makes movies about this, do they? It's an invisible Sword of Damocles hanging over all our heads.

But people should realize this, because if you ever get a traffic ticket and choose to fight it you'll get a lesson in how the courts have become convction machines. Again, guilty or not, it's nearly impossible to get a traffic commissioner to find you not guilty. And if you choose to appeal your conviction you'll wind up spending $10K to fight a $400 ticket, because nothing short of that will work at the appeals level.

Our system now provides all the justice money can buy. A fortune won't get you off necessarily. But it will get you a competent defense. Otherwise you can kiss your assets goodbye.

Think about that the next time your local DA brags about how "tough on crime" he or she is.

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