Can a poor American get a fair trial?

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  • RunAmuckMom Salt Lake City, UT
    April 2, 2013 2:54 a.m.

    Without money there is no "fair" trial. For a "fair" trial you have to hire/pay for legal counsel to represent you and your interests. Public defenders are legal counsel for the accused but do not represent the accused or their interest in an actual defense. Sad to say but our system here is broken as well.

  • Eliyahu Pleasant Grove, UT
    April 1, 2013 2:13 p.m.

    As a retired paralegal, I've long been appalled by the inconsistency of public defenders. I've worked with some who were better than retained counsel, and have encountered others so bad I could never understand how they passed the Bar exam. All of them tend to be overloaded with too many cases and are often underpaid for the work they do.

    Sending people to trial with inadequate or incompetent counsel is only one step removed from mob justice.

  • Transaction7 Commerce, Texas
    March 30, 2013 11:43 a.m.

    Retired (*) after 35 years of practice in Texas including insurance defense, some plaintiff's work, criminal trials and appeals, many court appointed, up through non-capital murder, etc., and having been a litigant, I have seen the system fail, including convictions later proven factually wrong and coerced pleas by the innocent, many times, I think Justice Jefferson (whose court doesn't hear criminal appeals) is right on several points. Winning cases, lower sentences, or points of law for poor criminal defendants while paid by the county makes you very unpopular with the county commissioners who control budgeting and the voters, and thus with some elected judges. The defendants see you as not a real lawyer and not loyal even when you work hard for them and win. .
    I was defendant in a case where the verbatim record correctly says my appointed lawyer was given "2 or 3 minutes," after the trial began, to review reams of actual and alleged evidence and interview witnesses who were not present or available, The Bar spends a fortune on its "legal services to the poor in civil cases" committee and I can't get legal counsel for love or money.

  • kargirl Sacramento, CA
    March 29, 2013 5:50 p.m.

    One thing that always puzzled me as a voter was, why are we electing judges and DAs when most of the voters have not a lot of experience in fields that equip them to know what in these peoples' backgrounds gives them the ability to qualify to fill those posts over and above the others on the ballot? Did they show some unique ability to understand the nuances of the state and local laws? Do they know the legal history, and how it is relevant to modern jurisprudence? Have they spent time doing any pro bono work, working in different courts, so that they understand how various courts (traffic, child/family, for instance) work, how they differ, how they are similar? What are their interests, both in and out of their field? What concerns them? These things are never presented, nor would there be time; some of it would be technical if done properly. Should the judges, then, not be appointed, and the attorneys not attain their positions by application?

  • JWB Kaysville, UT
    March 28, 2013 8:29 p.m.

    It appears money may not buy happiness but it will buy an attorney that knows how to wiggle a case out of the system in a court. Politics influence judges and jury's abilities as some politicians put undue pressure through the D.A. is evident, until the next election.

  • NeilT Clearfield, UT
    March 28, 2013 6:45 p.m.

    Stop electing District Attorney's. Let them be apppointed by a non partisan panel. Get politics out of the judicail system. A small step in the right direction.

  • Ronald Uharriet SWun City, Ca.
    March 28, 2013 6:37 p.m.

    Great article By Mercedes White, Deseret News “ “Can a poor American get a fair trial?’”

    This artice comes at a time when the Republican Party says that we spend too much money on intitlements and that money could be going to give those making over $450,000 per year a lower tax rate than the rest of us.

    Usually the focus is on reducing or doing away with Social Security and Medicare, food stamps, programs like HUD and all other programs across the boad that help those that can not help themselves in their time of need. Providing the constitutional right for an attorney in time of need is just one of the many underfunded intitlements that the Republican platform would like to even further under fund in order to provide the tax breaks for the rich that are capable of taking care of themselves.

  • aceroinox Farmington, UT
    March 28, 2013 6:16 p.m.

    Reminds me of a New Yorker Magazine cartoon. An attorney is conferring with his client: "Mr. Smith, you have a strong case. Just how much justice can you afford?"

  • UtahBlueDevil Durham, NC
    March 28, 2013 6:16 p.m.

    They can... but I wouldn't place money on them getting a fair chance. Some friends of ours had a minor incident where the local DA over charged this person - far beyond anything that happened - just so they would plea out. They had no way to fight it, the public defender was far out gunned, and the whole process was rigged to get them to plea.

    What really happened, I don't know. And we will never know. The systems was not set up to get to the right answer, but the most expedient answer. I firmly believe the treatment of our friend was not an exception to the rule, the SOP for our DAs office.

    Justice was not only blind folded, but apparently didn't care either.

  • Lowell Steele Farmington, UT
    March 28, 2013 5:21 p.m.

    The other solution, almost universal in western Europe: legal insurance. We've been covered for almost 12 years, with access to excellent law firms across the country. I'm sure public defenders do the best they can, but I'd rather not have to go that route.

  • dalefarr South Jordan, Utah
    March 28, 2013 4:46 p.m.

    No, it is not possible. Wealth or lack thereof directly leads to the outcome.

  • conservative scientist Lindon, UT
    March 28, 2013 4:01 p.m.

    The question in the title is the wrong question. The vast majority of poor people get a fair trial. In the case mentioned, it seems to state everyone knew he was guilty, and admittedly there may have been problems with his sentencing hearing, but somehow there is an expectation that the guilty go free, or that anyone with mental illness should be given a free pass - which is really twisted thinking. The real question that should be asked is "Is it possible for the rich to get a fair trial?". The answer to this is much less likely as the high profile attorneys care nothing about "fairness" or "justice" but about getting their clients off and way too many O.J. Simpsons and other rich people go free when they should be serving time in prison, just like the poor are properly doing. Our goal should not be to treat everyone like the rich, but to treat the rich like everyone else.

  • happy2bhere LAYTON, UT
    March 28, 2013 3:51 p.m.

    RE: HVH

    Still, Clinton did get impeached for perjury. That is and will always be part of his legacy. His legacy line by the way is not something like "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country", or "We have nothing to fear but fear itself", or "Tear down this wall Mr. Gorbachev". No, The most famous thing Clinton ever said was "I did not have sex with that woman, Miss Lewinski." What a guy!!!

  • Happy Valley Heretic Orem, UT
    March 28, 2013 3:10 p.m.

    I'm sorry I don't remember paula jones being poor or getting a court appointed lawyer?
    I do remember the republicans spending a 100 million dollars trying to prove Clinton had an affair though.
    And Paula was WELL represented by the Neocons team of attorneys, and they still couldn't prove anything.

  • lost in DC West Jordan, UT
    March 28, 2013 2:31 p.m.

    Of course the court system is biased. Paula Jones never got justice; too many people thought it was OK for her attacker to lie to the courts.

  • heavyhitter Lehi, UT
    March 28, 2013 2:30 p.m.

    And even if you do hire counsel, often the judges are overwhelmed and don't even spend time on your case. Just recently had this situation--asking to reduce child support and alimony for two years. The judge gives a 4-page decision with no analysis or citation to the law, and gives my ex virtually everything even though she already has $10,000 per month. Justice is not blind, and sounds like we are all getting screwed.

  • m.g. scott LAYTON, UT
    March 28, 2013 2:29 p.m.

    Continuing my rant. I think it is just too easy to become a lawyer in America. And probably worst of all I'd say about 80% of politicians are themselves lawyers who know that sooner or later they are going to want to leave politics and get on the tort law gravy train. So, with that kind of politician don't expect any tort reform, which we really need.

  • Hemlock Salt Lake City, UT
    March 28, 2013 2:17 p.m.

    And if you have lots of money, you can wear down the legal system. In the context of fairness, too little or too much money takes the blindfold off our Lady Justice.

  • m.g. scott LAYTON, UT
    March 28, 2013 2:07 p.m.

    Yes, I regretfully find myself amoung the cynics who think the system is stacked in the favor of money. F. Lee Bailey once said that the legal system is better in Great Britain because every lawyer (barrister) is equally trained and qualified by the state. In other words, both the prosecuter and defender are lawyers of equal stature. Or, for our purposes you could say, both lawyers have trained at say Harvard Law School, and have passed an equal bar exam, ect. To illustrate it another way.

    Question: What do they call the student who graduates LAST in their medical school class.

    Answer: Doctor.

  • cjb Bountiful, UT
    March 28, 2013 1:58 p.m.

    Absolutely its possible.

    Its not as probable however.

  • Kyle loves BYU/Jazz Provo, UT
    March 28, 2013 1:31 p.m.

    Unfortunately the opposite side of this situation is also true. Many of the poor and minorities who have been victims of crimes don't have their cases prosecuted in the same way as other citizens. The justice system is a misnomer. This comment isn't mean to demean prosecutors or public defenders, I think there are a lot of great ones out there, but courts just do not treat everyone the same. I don't know how we can change that either, but I appreciate articles like this that are at least making us aware of the problem.

  • Ironmomo Ogden, Utah
    March 28, 2013 12:50 p.m.

    The answer is no. Instead of attorneys, we have "negotiators" who work and bargain for plea deals regardless of whether or not a person is guilty or not. It's all based on available funds and risk assessment. If you have very little financial backing you can bet the plea deal will be forthcoming.

  • Happy Valley Heretic Orem, UT
    March 28, 2013 12:29 p.m.

    No, there are 2 court systems in America one for precious celebrities athletes, and politicians, and one for the average schmuck who not only pays a lawyer (if they can afford one) but then pays even more to the court system.

    if your going to steal make it millions, or you'll go to jail.

  • Gildas LOGAN, UT
    March 28, 2013 12:20 p.m.

    You make a good point. We could also consider emotional and prejudiced juries and agenda-driven judges, and a public that is too quick to assume "all is well" with current judicial practice.