The “Other” Inequality

Over the last decade, there’s been a fair amount of verbiage expended on income inequality, and how the rich are getting even richer. And that’s unfortunately true.

But all that verbiage has tended to obscure another growing inequality – and that’s an inequality that afflicts the U.S. system of justice. While there’s been lots of heat and light focused on law enforcers at all levels, there’s been little light and even less progress in dealing with the inequality in the courts created by lack of resources and exploited by wealth.

While the delay between the time a defendant is charged and when the case is tried varies considerably by state and locality, statistics show that, on average, that delay has been increasing steadily since 1990, to the point that in some of slowest areas, such as Chicago, someone charged with murder will wait four years before going to trial. Some cases have been delayed a decade.

Part of the problem is political, because Congress deadlocks over appointing federal judges as each party wants its judicial candidates, with the result that ten percent of federal judge positions are vacant. Also, the number of judges hasn’t kept pace with population growth.

These resource shortcomings play into the hands of unscrupulous litigants for whom every day of delay offers a benefit. The delays also punish innocents without financial resources, some of whom have been held in captivity awaiting trial for years. This creates pressure to plead guilty to a lesser offense… and the result that someone found innocent might spend more time in jail than someone found guilty.

In the higher profile cases, such as those involving Donald Trump, all the endless motions and extended litigation provide illustrated example after example of how those with wealth and accomplished (I wouldn’t use the term “good” here) attorneys can thwart and string out prosecution and trials for years.

And often even when they lose, at least in civil cases or cases involving fraud and white-collar crime, the cost to them is less than to what they’ve gained.

Large corporations can do the same in dealing with the government, as well as in civil matters against individuals or small companies creating legal proceedings that can bankrupt those without extensive legal resources.

Yet, even as the Trump legal spectacle fuels Trump’s re-election campaign funding and furthers his political ambition, few seem to grasp the impact such tactics have on those who can’t afford those kinds of attorneys.

4 thoughts on “The “Other” Inequality”

  1. Postagoras says:

    More than 90% of Federal and State prosecutions end with plea bargains, not with jury trials.[1]

    This enables prosecutors to coerce guilty pleas from everyone but the rich.


    1. Shannon says:

      The justice system will collapse without plea deals. I would argue that our society does not have the resources to fairly adjudicate every crime, or even every charged crime. Yes, we lack judges, but we also lack attorneys, both for prosecution and defense. Our society is not willing to pay for those resources.

      1. Postagoras says:

        Shannon, you are right… and wrong.

        The justice system needs the plea bargaining system because of the lack of resources for actual justice. That is, as in a jury trial.

        I wouldn’t go so far is to say that plea bargaining is used to railroad innocent people, by and large. But I would say that it can be used, and is used, to railroad innocent people. Sadly, there is no feedback mechanism to eliminate that behavior.

  2. KevinJ says:

    I first started noticing how inequality affected (in)justice during the OJ trial. Top defense attorneys are paid far more than prosecutors. Guess where the most accomplished attorneys go?

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