Last week many of you saw the criminal justice system at its best. George Zimmerman had top notch attorneys and expert witnesses representing him. The trial lasted from June 24 through July 12, which is a lot longer trial than most criminal trials last.
Brian Tannebaum, Eric Mayer, Elie Mystal, Gideon, Popehat, and Scott Greenfield wrote the best pieces I’ve read about the verdict, so I am going to refrain from commentary. Everything that needs to be said has been said by bloggers better qualified than myself to express their opinions.
I think there is an aspect still worth discussing – George Zimmerman was able to afford a top notch defense. Those who can afford a top notch defense fare far better at trial than those who cannot. That is how our justice system works, which I don’t think most Americans realize. The more money you have for your defense, the stronger it is going to be. Someone has to pay those expert witnesses, court reporters, and private investigators.
And here someone paid a significant amount of money to ensure Zimmerman had a full and fair trial.
As a result, it seems like every person in America now thinks that every criminal defendant gets weeks of trial, expert testimony, and a full and fair opportunity to have their case tried fully and fairly. Most of you have never heard of a “meet and greet” plea, where the public defender meets their client for the first time when striking a plea.
George Zimmerman was able to raise hundreds and thousands of dollars for his defense. Interestingly, Zimmerman’s website breaks down where all the money actually went:
BAIL BOND — $95,000
HOUSEHOLD/LIVING EXPENSES — $61,747.54
SECURITY — $56,100.00
LAW FIRM SUPPORT AND INFRASTRUCTURE — $40,647.64
CASE RELATED EXPENSES — $35,588.07
PAYPAL AND FUND MANAGEMENT FEES — $7,924.22
OTHER EXPENSES — $3,201.04
That comes out to $300,208.51 in costs alone, because apparently Zimmerman was not paying his lawyer. Zimmerman continued to raise money throughout the trial, and even raised $77k in one week alone. My guess is he raised at least $500k by this point.
But your average criminal defendant does not have $500k to throw at a case, or even $50k, sometimes not even $5k (or $500). And do you know what happens when someone can’t afford an expert or a transcript in law? They don’t get it. The more money a criminal defendant has to spend on a case, the better the chances are of winning. This applies in both criminal and civil law. A well financed defendant has a much better chance of winning at trial. They can afford the experts, the transcripts, and the legal team.
This is not to suggest that the public defenders don’t do a good job. That isn’t the case. Many of them are top notch trial attorneys and better than private counsel. But the PD doesn’t have the resources to devote $500k to every criminal defendant who walks through their door. They just don’t. Most public defenders barely get paid themselves enough as is.
So if you watched the Zimmerman trial and thought “At least that guy got a fair trial”, you’re right. But it isn’t the norm, because most defendants don’t have $500k to put into their defense. George Zimmerman did.
If Zimmerman didn’t have top notch experts and a crack legal team to aid him, would he have won at trial? If he were flat broke, would a plea have been more viable, even if he were not guilty…?
In my opinion, the racisim in the system is not because a white George Zimmerman shot a black Trayvon Martin. The true racisim is that most minorities who are accused of crimes cannot afford to to put on a good defense. Then they get steam rolled by the prosecution. If a defendant can’t afford to put on a solid defense, a plea is more likely regardless of guilt. It happens more than most people realize.
Perhaps Dave Chappelle’s “Law and Order” skit summed up the disparities in our justice system the best: