Friday, July 01, 2011

Judicial Reform in Defense

Since we have a government court system, one thing to do until liberty is achieved is try to make it function in a way that promotes actual justice. There are many ways in which the court system could be improved, some of them simple and some of them radical. One proposal is to hold judges accountable. Another would be allowing private citizens to file criminal charges. But there is one change that can be implemented right now, without any structural changes to the system. All it would require is a willingness to do the right thing. The part to change is the Public Defender's Office.

Currently, the Public Defender only defends the truly indigent. If someone cannot afford an attorney without going deeply into debt, but has an income above poverty, that person does not qualify for a public defender. Unlike civil suits where loser pays, a malicious prosecutor can financially break someone simply by filing spurious charges against them. The only reason that the Duke Rape Case turned out as well as it did was because the accused students came from wealthy families who were able to gather the resources to fight the charges.

The role of the Public Defender needs to be greatly expanded. Anyone accused of any crime should be entitled to representation by a Public Defender. A person still would have the right to hire additional representation, and would have the right to refuse a Public Defender, but the offer must be made. The problem with that is that the Public Defender’s office is already overwhelmed. Even with only defending the poor they have more cases than they can actually handle, and cannot devote enough time to mount a real defense of those they already represent.

The office itself should therefore be expanded. The Defender's office should have a budget equal to that of the District Attorney's office, and staffing levels of each office should vary by, at most, one person. Just as District Attorneys are promoted based on successful prosecutions, Public Defenders should be promoted based on successful defenses. Give full and equal resources and power to the two offices, to make one a real and actual check on the other.

If the average person is not equipped to face the full might of the government, unable to match the "unlimited" resources of the government, then the response should be to offer those same resources to the average person in defense as well as in prosecution.

The best part of this particular reform is it requires absolutely no structural changes to the justice system. It would not require any fundamental changes; it would not require amending any constitutions and it would barely require any changes to the law. All it would really take is the will to include it in the budget.

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