The Public Defender Deficit, Ctd

A reader writes:

Comparing the budgets of a public defenders’ office to a prosecutors’ office is a false equivalence. I work as a state-level prosecutor in a small county. Public defenders only get involved in a case after someone gets charged with a crime. Prosecutors spend a good part of their day involved in investigations that never lead to charges (things like reviewing search warrants, interviewing witnesses, and discussing cases with officers where we decline to prosecute). The State has substantial discovery obligations in each case, which means the production of hundreds of pages of documents and a support staff to handle those requirements. In only a fraction of cases does the defense disclose anything through the discovery process. Keep in mind that the State has both the burden of proof and production in criminal cases while the defense has none. It’s not uncommon for the State to arrange for and call dozens of witnesses in a case and for the defense to call none. It’s a lot more expensive to build a house than tear one down.

Another agrees that the comparison is “grossly misleading”:

As that final sentence in that post shows, there are private defense attorneys where there is no private prosecutorial function. By definition all criminal prosecution is handled by the government. So even if you have some form of functional parity, you would naturally have more headcount and funding for public prosecutors than for public defenders, because a great deal of total criminal defense work is handled by private attorneys.

I’m not disagreeing that there are serious concerns with staffing and resourcing in criminal justice. In fact, as the husband of a prosecutor, I strongly support increased funding on both sides, and of the court system itself, in the interest of speedy trials and fair justice. Far from favoring prosecution (and here is where my bias may interject), budget and staffing cuts means that prosecutors are constantly walking away from cases they don’t feel as confident about or don’t have the time anymore to pursue. That’s an automatic win for the defense. So to think that lousy budgets only helps prosecution is wrong. Budget cuts means a lot of criminals just don’t go to trial.

That’s just my humble dissent on an issue that hits close to home. I sometimes rankle when people get anti-prosecutor because of the ridiculous implication that they spend all day locking up minorities out of malice or careerism. These are attorneys who are making far less money than their private sector peers to engage in public service. I wish people knew the number of domestic battery, rape, poaching, child porn, child abuse, human trafficking etc. work that these bright attorneys take on. Seeing this evidence is not easy on the prosecutors or the families who support them. But someone has to stand and represent the People, and fight for justice and for the victims. When prosecutors are underfunded, the defense is underfunded, and the courts are underfunded, that doesn’t always happen.