IN JUSTICE, AS IN EVERYTHING ELSE, MONEY TALKS!

Despite many high-profile Mafia prosecutions, Mob guys enjoy the best legal protection in America: money. Even in the US, which prides itself on being a nation of “laws, not men,” money—not right or wrong--assures “justice.” Contrast how a poor defendant is treated in our system, vs. a Mob guy or anyone with a lot of money:

Let’s say you’ve been arrested for killing someone: a drug deal gone bad, a gambling debt, a personal insult…whatever. The charge against you is Murder in the Second Degree. If you’re like 95% of felony defendants, you don’t have the money to make bail or to hire a criminal lawyer (few attorneys specialize in criminal law precisely because most criminal defendants can’t afford to pay them). The court will assign you a Public Defender (PD): probably a young, recent graduate of law school gaining experience and contacts before embarking on a career with a law firm or corporation, who’s paid by the court system to represent indigent defendants. Your PD will spend about 10 minutes reviewing the paperwork in your case. Then, in the only visit to your jail cell, your PD will try to convince you to waive your right to trial and plead guilty to a lesser offense in return for a shorter sentence. The only time the PD will advise you to plead not guilty is if there’s a hole in your case big enough to drive a truck through: you have three witnesses who’ll swear that you were a thousand miles away when the crime was committed; or the arresting officer subsequently was dismissed from the force for falsifying evidence in cases like yours, or something equally obvious. And there’s almost no way the PD will bring your case to trial, even if the PD thinks that you might be innocent, or that a jury could be convinced to bring in a “not guilty” verdict.

Why? It’s not because PD’s are bad people. To the contrary: they’re usually young enough not to have developed that hard shell of cynicism that attaches to so may experienced lawyers. It’s because the criminal justice system is stacked against poor defendants:

First, the PD probably is carrying a caseload of at least 150 defendants, many of them charged with serious felonies like yours. All of them deserve the same shot at “justice” as you do, and the PD just doesn’t have time to try all those cases. And even if she or he did, how much attention do you think you’d get from a public servant carrying such a huge caseload? Would you want to be represented by a lawyer with so many distractions?

Second, the figure of merit in the court system is: Clear the calendar! This applies to judges, prosecutors and PD’s. PD’s who bring a lot of cases to trial are clogging the system, and will earn the wrath of prosecutors and judges who’re in a position to do favors for PD’s and their clients.

Third, during the trial the judge is supposed to act as an “impartial arbitrator,” assuring fairness. But when a guilty verdict is brought in, the judge in effect becomes an arm of the prosecution—judges always ask prosecutors what “the People” require as punishment for convicted criminals. The prosecutors in your case know this. So they tell your PD: “Hey, look, we’ve got your guy cold on Murder Two. Penalty is 20 years to life. If your guy makes us go to trial, he will be convicted—no two ways about it. The judge’ll ask us what we want for a sentence. We’ll say life, you’ll plead for ‘leniency’—and the judge’ll give him fifty years. But if you convince your guy to waive his right to trial, we’ll let him plead to Manslaughter Two. The penalty is two-to-ten. We’ll ask for five, you’ll ask for probation, and the judge’ll give him three. Now, what’s it gonna be: fifty years or three years?”

Fourth: While a defendant is “presumed” to be innocent until proven guilty, the reverse is true in the minds of most jurors—especially if you, like many defendants, are nonwhite and have a prior record. People who’ve been arrested or convicted of crimes can be excluded from juries. So, the only brush with the law that most jurors have experienced was to receive a traffic ticket. Their mindset likely will be that you must have done something to make the police arrest you. So, even though the law requires that the prosecution prove you guilty beyond reasonable doubt, the reality is that you and your PD have a truly uphill struggle to convince the jury that you’re not guilty.

Finally, law is a competitive business. Lawyers will bend over backward for out-of-court settlements in civil matters, and plea-bargains in criminal cases. But once a case goes to trial, the issue isn’t innocence or guilt, or even right or wrong: it’s who wins and who loses. And lawyers hate to lose—it makes them look bad, especially when they move on to high-paying positions in law firms and corporations. Prosecutors (who also are mostly young, recent law school grads) that lose trials have an out when they interview for “real” jobs: “Aah, the bleeding-heart judge let that defendant off…aah, stupid cops screwed up the evidence.” PD’s have no such outs with interviewers. It’s far better for a PD to tell an interviewer: “During my two years as a PD, I represented nearly a thousand defendants, and I got reduced sentences for all of them” than to say, “I brought more than 200 cases to trial, and won acquittals in 25% of them.” A 25% acquittal rate would be astoundingly good, given the odds against the kinds of poor defendants PDs represent. But law firms and corporations seldom litigate cases; and when they do, they hire outside counsel. The interviewer hearing that likely would think: “What the hell’s wrong with this person, bringing all those s**theels to trial? Never heard of a plea bargain? With that kind of poor judgment, there’s no way I’m letting him/her near my clients!”

But if you have money—plenty of money—the odds shift dramatically in your favor, even if you’re a Mob guy. Now you can hire a “superlawyer” like Bruce Cutler, Gerald Shargel, Barry Slotnick, Ron Kuby or Albert Krieger. Attention isn’t an issue because, at $600 an hour and up, they’ll spend all the time in the world on your case. They have political and judicial clout up the wazoo, so they’ll invariably work out a bail figure that you can afford.
Prosecutors are afraid of their fearsome reputations, so if they offer you a plea-bargain, you can bet it’ll be on better terms than if you were poor. Judges, too, are afraid of your superlawyers. They know that, even if you’re found guilty, you’ll appeal. Then your lawyers will use your money to hire an army of legal scholars to pore over every world of the trial transcript, looking for “reversible errors”: mistakes the judge may have made during the trial that could result in an appeals court overturning your conviction. Judges hate to be reversed on appeal: it makes them look bad and lessens their chances for elevation to a higher court. So, during the trial, the judge will bend over backward to rule in your favor—and might even be eager to declare a mistrial or a summary dismissal to avoid problems with an appellate court down the line. And sometimes, the prosecutors will be relieved: it spares them the humiliation of being shown up by “real” lawyers.

And, finally, even if you’re found guilty and lose your appeals, your superlawyers will keep plugging for you—filing motions for new trials, working their political mojo on the Governor or the President for clemency or executive pardon—as long as your money holds out. You’ll get the best “justice” that money can buy.


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