Below is an editorial in today’s Democrat and Chronicle from syndicated columnist Susan Estrich. Obviously, the headline immediately grabbed my attention.
Now, first and foremost, the prosecutor referred to at the beginning of the article ought to be ashamed of himself for making such a ridiculous comment to the jury in that case. However, we know nothing more about the facts of the case which would allow for a fair discussion of the merits of the conviction he was able to obtain. The verdict is not really the point of the article anyway.
The main point of the article seems to be that there is inherent inequality in the American justice system, and that its main cause is the disparity in the quality of attorney a defendant is able to obtain based on their financial status. Put more simply, if you’re poor you will not be able to obtain competent representation, or, on the other hand, the richer you are, the better quality of lawyer you get, the more likely you are to get off if you have been accused of a crime. The author, at the end of the piece asks the reader to “Take my word for it” that this is the state of affairs in the American justice system.
I would caution anyone here in Western New York to take this article with a grain of salt. Ms. Estrich’s conclusions are at best overly simplistic and at worst based on sensationalizing one comment from one case in another state (Texas, to be specific, which is literally and figuratively a long way from here) where no other facts and circumstances of the case are shared with the reader.
My take as a practicing criminal defense attorney is that your level of “success” in terms of the outcome of a case has less to do with how much you pay for an attorney, and more to do with how well you and that attorney communicate and work together, as well as the attorney’s background, experience and relationships with the courts, prosecutors, court staff, law enforcement, etc. In other words, you need to find the right attorney for you and for your particular case.
After all, what good is paying top dollar for representation by an attorney that you can’t access or communicate with, or an attorney that you don’t personally get along with? I continually tell my new clients that the key to a successful attorney-client relationship is honesty and communication – and those two things are (last time I checked) absolutely free of charge.
And to answer Ms. Estrich’s question from the article – here in Rochester, I’d rather be poor and innocent. With the right attorney on your side, you’ll get a fair shake, at least from what I’ve seen during my career.