clap clap blog: we have moved

Tuesday, April 15, 2003
"Why are you liberals so opposed to small government?"

Well, here's one reason. The SCOTUS decided (in 1940!) that everyone is entitled to a lawyer, even if you can't pay for one, but they didn't actually specify that the lawyer had to be good, or spend any time with you, or anything like that. This was a problem in the recent Tulia, TX drug busts wherein the testimony of a single paid informant was enough to convict over 30 (mostly black) defendants: they may well be innocent, but given an apparent choice between taking a compromise deal and fighting it and getting a worse sentence, many poor defendants with inadequate counsel will take the plea bargain, even though they could win in court. It also brings to mind the recently-stayed death sentence of Delma Banks, a black man convicted of killing a white man by an all-white jury, a fact which his lawyer didn't see fit to challenge at the time.

In this case, Quitman County, Mississippi doesn't seem to have enough money to pay its public defenders to actually defend the public. This is manifested in cases like Diana Brown's, whose lawyer told her, "You are guilty, lady," said she should take a plea bargain, and gave her five minutes to decide. And so, feeling this is probably a wee bit injust, they're suing the state for not providing the money. Just how injust is it? Check this:

People who feel they did not receive effective assistance are required to prove not only that the lawyer was incompetent, but also that the incompetence affected the outcome of the case. And they need to typically prove this after conviction in a proceeding in which they are not entitled to a lawyer.

Still wonder why people don't have faith in our criminal justice system?

As always, it's unfortunate when the legislative process results in an unjust, undemocratic outcome and we have to resort to the courts, but until we all get a little less afraid of politics, that's where it's going to have to go. (Why is America such a "litigious society"? Because we can't cure our problems through the legislative process very often.) The fact remains that you can convince people that they shouldn't have to pay money to defend poor people, or pave roads, or pay for libraries, but really, they do, they just don't want to, and it's the responsibility of legislators not to play to that kind of bullshit "populism." Shape the fuck up and be a statesman, not a goddamn local TV reporter.