Saturday, October 29, 2011

Where oh where did people get the idea that death penalty defense attorneys are making boatloads of money on death penalty cases? You see it all the time (if you're nutty like me and read comments on online news sites, especially) that members of the general public will complain about these lawyers who intentionally delay death penalty cases so they can stay on the gravy train. Because there is so much money in representing death row inmates.

Let me make something really clear. There's not a whole lot of money in death penalty defense. Yes, the lawyers make a living, but no one's getting rich doing this work. The vast majority of death row inmates don't have millions of dollars lying around to pay private counsel, so the lawyers are public defenders or appointed attorneys paid a pittance per hour by the state or county. Or they are do-gooder non-profit attorneys who get paid by agencies relying on donations. Or they are big firm attorneys doing pro bono work. All of these attorneys could be making a heck of a lot more money in some other area of the law.

There are lots of reasons why people come to do death penalty work, but money is not one of them.


Transplanted Lawyer said...

The idea comes from reports of the staggering amounts of money that are spent on executions which are sometimes circulated by abolition advocates. The unstated assumption that the abolition advocates seem happy to allow people to believe is that all that money is being spent on lawyers, using the lawyers as whipping boys.

A Voice of Sanity said...

So, what's the lesson from the Scott Peterson trial, where the defendant's family borrowed heavily to finance a failed defense which could not compete with the state's spending?

* 20,000 hours of police time without finding anything at all - except one hair and some spilled cement.
* 20,000 hours of prosecutor time and yet we saw a prosecutor who needed to be rescued part way through the trial.
* $1 million spent to prove that the deceased wasn't where the state desperately needed her to be.
* $11 million total spent to convince a jury -- which deliberated 5 months of testimony in 6 hours.

My lesson was spend the money on investigators and on good scientific analysts who can find all of the flaws in the case and educate the defense on how to exploit them.


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