category: law, category: politics

21st Century American Justice: “Well, Defendant: How Much Money Ya’ Got?”

We naively believe that the American justice system has improved over the years. It has not.

Consider the ruling on “afflueza boy“or the Kennedy given special treatment so he could go skiing, and now this, a Dupont trust-fund-baby rapist who is spared jail-time because, according to the judge, he wouldn’t fare well in prison.

Yes, this isn’t a ruling from a kangaroo court in a 3rd world country but rather from the American justice system in 2014.

Or consider that, when a tech billionaire who beat up his girlfriend was caught on video, he served zero jail time — and when a billionaire’s daughter’s ex-boyfriend threatened to release naked pics of her, the FBI got involved (would they get involved if you or I were threatened? doubtful).  Is it any wonder we are seeing calls to socialize the legal system (great article by Noam Scheiber)? Sure, we believe in a free market and if you are able to hire someone to represent you that charges $2,000 an hour and does a hell of a job, then good for you.

But these are, effectively, matters of life and death. Should such matters come down to how much money one has? O.J. went free because he was a rich guy — not, as folks believe, because he was black. He had the best legal representation money can buy. A poor black guy in O.J.’s shoes? He wouldn’t have even had a day in court, forced to plea guilty, and would currently be serving a 60-year sentence in a maximum security prison.

There is also the concern that money can — and does — affect a judge’s treatment of a case, or even a ruling, directly. You think judges are never bought off? Or, at least, aren’t influenced by a wealthy guy who’s a relative of the defendant and just happens to play golf with the judge a week earlier and just happens to mention his friend “went through a really hard time and so if you could just give this case your special attention, with no special favors of course (wink wink), it would be very appreciated”? If you believe that never happens, I have some ice to sell you when you’re next in Alaska.

I don’t know what the answer is. But something needs to be done.


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