Sunday, April 04, 2004

Why Poor People Go To Jail

TalkLeft has a good post on the pathetic state of public defense in Washington State. You know, 'if you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you'-type stuff? Well, Washington State, like many other states, uses a contract payment system for defense of indigent clients. So the defense attorney gets $50 to defend an alleged shoplifter, or $50 to defend an alleged murdered. Sounds about right, doesn't it?

Apart from the inherent cost difference in being able to effectively defend someone for shoplifting vs. murder - because of the seriousness of the crime (we're not idealists) - there is the even-more troublesome aspect of an attorney with a fixed fee to defend a case. If you are going to make only $50 to defend a case, are you inclined to appeal that case when you'll essentially be volunteering your time to do so? Are you inclined to accept a plea offer or are you willing to go to trial? A per-hour contract system could work, but per-case? That's absurd...