Friday, November 2, 2007

Liberty and Unjustice for All

Economic classifications cannot continue to play a role in capital court cases. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg claims, “I have yet to see a death case among the dozens coming to the Supreme Court on eve-of-execution stay applications in which the defendant was well represented at trial. People who are well represented at trial to not get the death penalty.” This is completely unjust and goes against everything that our country is based on. We are supposed to represent liberty, equality, and justice, yet this economic bias embodies none of these qualities. We lose credibility as a country because the implication of this bias is that the wealth of a person determines who is more important. Those, like Robert Nave, death penalty abolitionist advocate, who want to abolish the death penalty site socio-economic status and biased based on this as a main reason. It is a fact that a person is more likely to dodge the death penalty if they hire a private attorney. How is this fair? It is not fair at all and we should be doing something about it. It is not enough to simply realize it is a problem.
Poverty and the death penalty are tied together, and this tends to be the determining factor when deciding who receives the death penalty. What most often determines the imposition of the death sentence are not the facts of the case, but the quality of the legal representation. One of the most horrible examples rests with Calvin Burdine’s court-appointed lawyer. He was convicted and sentenced to death in 1984, however the Supreme Court overturned this decision because his lawyer slept through major portions of his trial. The ACLU also argued that his trial was tainted with homophobia from the jury, his lawyer, and the prosecutor. How can we, in America, allow something like this to happen? Then compare this to the O.J. Simpson trial. Of course he could hire any lawyer he wanted with his bank account. I personally believe that he is guilty, however, his lawyer was paid outrageous amounts of money, and he got off easy.
There are also stories of inexperienced lawyers. Dennis Fritz, for example, came within five days of being executed, but was released because of DNA evidence. Why was he convicted for a crime that he didn’t commit? A court-appointed civil liabilities lawyer, not a criminal lawyer, represented Fritz. Also, a study found that “a defendant in Virginia will on average be sentenced two years longer if he is represented by a court-appointed lawyer rather than a public defender or a hired lawyer.” There have been attempts at reform: the Furman v. Georgia decision placed a moratorium on executions in 1972. The justices sited the quality of court-appointed lawyers as part of the problem. Also, in 2002 the Florida Supreme Court “extended the minimum standard for court-appointed handling capital cases to all attorneys.” However, there have also been setbacks in the process. New York recently cut the pay of court-appointed lawyers. This could really hurt the inequalities in capital punishment, making them worse. This article also claims that court-appointed lawyers are paid $125 an hour in New York, but only $20 an hour in Alabama. This difference in pay also helps account for the problems with disproportions in capital punishment cases.
There are problems elsewhere with funding cuts. In Georgia, for example, there were cuts and now there is not enough money for court-appointed lawyers, making it impossible for defendants to find representation. This came up after Troy Davis’s case, and has set a precedent. This is becoming more of a major problem in our country. In a country of one million attorneys only about fifty work for private, nonprofit organizations. Also, a recent study at Columbia University found that “two out of three death penalty sentences were reversed on appeal, and about 37 percent were the result of incompetent lawyering.” This problem needs to be fixed immediately. The measures that are being taken right now need to be intensified to help those who can’t afford private lawyers.
The question that remains is what is to be done. The first step is improving economic status for all citizens. This would help considerably if we were able to make it possible for all people to hire private lawyers. However, this is far-fetched, and I think that we need something that the government can take part in more. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor thinks, “Perhaps its time to look at minimum standards for appointed counsel in death cases and adequate compensation for appointed counsel when they are used.” >“Although the American Bar Association has promulgated standards for the representation of indigent defendants charged with capital offenses, and although those guidelines have been endorsed by the Supreme Court, no death-penalty jurisdiction has implemented a system that meets these requirements.” Judge Boyce Martin of the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals says, “the death penalty in this country is arbitrary, biased, and so fundamentally flawed at its very core that it is beyond repair.” So perhaps now the only way to end socio-economic bias is to end the death penalty completely.


Jan said...

I feel that you progress in a logical manner with a few off topic sentences scattered about, but overall it flows relatively well and gets your point across. Some of the sentences are a little blunt and could use further elaboration. I am interested in what you propose to do in order to facilitate change, which you could go into more detail about at the end of your article.

katiegane said...

I definitely agree that it is unfair for someone to be sentenced unfairly due to monetary wealth. It is not fair for one to be able to be found not guilty by the justice system just because they can afford to pay a highly-skilled lawyer. I find it especially appalling that many cases that deal with below average representation are often linked to capital punishment sentences. I agree that the United States needs to work on implementing better-representation for all cases so that every individual has the right to a fair trial. I also feel, however, that you digress in your topic. I think it would be helpful for you to organize your topic better and provide more clarity in your resolution.