I admire lawyers. But even with my admiration, I cannot ignore a lawyer’s capability to end someone’s life due to loopholes or lack of money. It has been obvious that a guilty verdict while not based solely on it, includes money having a damn good impact on a jury’s decision. People with unfortunate finances are forced to have their choices served from the bottom of the barrel. And that’s not to insult public defenders. They are one of America’s underappreciated and underpaid experts dealing with lives who already had the odds laid out against them. But in the end, that doesn’t matter.
So tell me, which would you rather have: a Public Defender or a private sector Criminal Defense Attorney?
Of course in order to be a lawyer the basic degrees and exams must be completed. But once the bar has been passed, paths tend to differ. General requirements for public defenders are usually entry level asking for internship experience working co-counsel in multiple jury trials. When deciding to go to a private criminal attorney office, not only do they prefer people who already have those qualifications, many ask for completed education such as Juris Doctor, specialized experience. Some also require steady prosecuting experience. Moreover, many junior associates must have their Master of Law, an advanced law certification that has global credibility for career advancement.
When it comes to workload, most lawyers have their work cut out for them. Unfortunately, when it comes to being a public defender, the demands have become outrageous. They have always had heavy caseloads with it increasing since 2011. An example would be issues in Los Angeles where they are only capable of handling 21% of the annual workload in compliance. Where does that leaves those in need of public defenders? Their lives are put in jeopardy due to professional responsibility. Multiple caseload studies that have been done in the recent years are saying the same thing. Workload deficiencies questions the equality in justice under the law. Hundreds of defendants wait in jail without representation. Look what happened to Kalief Browder.
This wouldn’t be that big of an issue if lawyers wanted to stay public defenders…but they don’t.
And why should public defenders stay where they are? In 2015, places like Massachusetts had some of their public defenders unable to make a living wage. We put people in those circumstances in charge of someone’s life. All over the country, the position of public defenders has had a high turnover rates for generations. Would you stay around if you were overworked and underpaid?
Private criminal attorneys, while their goals are the same, are able to approach their cases much differently. If they began to have a caseload that becomes overbearing, their clients can choose to go somewhere else instead of wait. It’s their money. On the other side, lawyers have every right to reject cases if they feel they cannot give 100% to their clients. It’s pretty convenient for all those involved.
Money is always an incentive.
As for attorney resources, you can be sure that money will be involved. We cannot ignore those who do pro-bono work, but expertise, research, and advice do cost money. In fact, many districts across the country are suing their government due to lack of funding. Missouri claims that their public defenders only get an average of $356 per case in funding. Now I know that most people have seen some sort of investigative show and knows that a detailed case would need a little more funding than that. Additionally, who’s investigating the cases? Someone needs to be out there verifying information. That person would also like to get paid. But without funding, what happens? I know. An example would be in New Orleans. They have eight investigators for 21,000 cases per year.
The salary between public defenders and criminal attorneys is astonishing but not because there are low quality expectations, rather experience issues. Public defenders have an average of $54k salary. There is a possibility to make 6 figures, but don’t expect it. They work for non-profit so the only real bonus is actually acquitting someone innocent. The private sector has a lot more opportunity for higher salary. They average $78k salary with more room for advancement. Of course, the fact that committing crimes is popular, and if you have money you have more options, the private sector is pretty competitive and a defense attorney could find themselves making about $160k per year.
And lets be honest. Who do public defenders defend? While private sector defense attorneys get to help those upper middle and high class people with steady incomes and trust funds, public defenders get to try to resolve the issues of the impoverished and the mentally unstable. Funny, we are finding that those are the ones that suffer from so much injustices.
So while there are reasons for the differences between public defenders and private sector defense attorneys, those who are affected by it have nothing to do with it. Yet their lives depend on whether or not they can afford all the amenities that comes with being able to pay for a defense. When will we look at the system dead at its core and say ‘man this shit if fucked up?’