Jewish World Review June 7, 2004 / 18 Sivan 5764
Why it's not always the big bad government that has the edge in criminal trials
One always hears defense attorneys complaining about the power and endless resources of the prosecution and the little defense team is always at a significant disadvantage. Now often that is true, particularly in cases where defendants are assigned public defenders with limited budgets. And it's only the prosecution that can conduct most of the tests on evidence, for example, in those kinds of cases. But it's also true that when the rich or infamous are on trial, it is often an entirely different ballgame.
The Scott Peterson case, just another example.
Prosecutor Rick Distaso and David Harris are hard working public servants, adequate lawyers. Distaso gave an adequate opening statement against Peterson laying out a chronology of Peterson's suspicious activity in the hours surrounding his wife's disappearance. But when you compare it to Peterson's attorney, Mark Geragos, the prosecution doesn't seem all that adequate anymore. Geragos weaved together a far more compelling story. Not because his case is better, but because he's just a better lawyer who has devoted significant resources to this case. In the O.J. Simpson case, the prosecutors clearly outfoxed by a well-funded defense team.
Those who watched the manslaughter trial of former NBA star Jayson Williams made similar comments about the lawyers there. And it may turn out to be true in the Michael Jackson and Kobe Bryant cases as well. Defendants have built in advantages in the system.
The burden of proof is on the prosecutors. Judges tell jurors if something can be interpreted in two different ways, you interpret it in the way most favorable to the defense.
Generally it's only the defense that can appeal a verdict that they don't like.
Prosecutors can't. So when the attorneys for the defense are also better, sometimes even better funded, it's easy to see why the defendants often have an unfair advantage.
It's the best system in the world, but it's particularly good for those with a lot of money.
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JWR contributor Dan Abrams anchors The Abrams Report, Monday through Friday from 9-10 p.m. ET on MSNBC TV. He also covers legal stories for NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw, Today and Dateline NBC. To visit his website, click here. Comment by clicking here.
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