Sunday, February 26, 2006

Getting around Gideon

Those of us working in the criminal justice system know of the trend for increasing fees, fines, court costs, supervision reimbursement, paying for probation/house arrest. Every politician can see the benefit of sticking it to criminals. However, the Times notes some problems:
The sums raised by these ever-mounting fees are intended to help offset some of the enormous costs of operating the criminal justice system. But even relatively small fees — $40 per session, say, for a court-ordered anger management class or $15 for a drug test — can have devastating consequences for people who emerge from prison with no money, credit or prospects, and who live in fear of being sent back for failing to pay.
The private companies that run probation threaten my clients repeatedly. I have to warn them that they are not supposed to go to jail simply not for paying. I mean, they will go to jail, but we have a defense if the only violation is not paying court costs. But what happens when the probation officer, whose entire office is paid by these fees, is successful at scaring the probationer so much? The probationer stupidly misses a meeting, then ends up going to jail when they get picked up for months and months. Cost to the taxpayer? Thousands upon thousands of dollars each time it happens. I mean, I am very sure to tell all my clients, emphatically, but I handle just a small percent of all probationers. Unfortunately, some of them don't understand the game, or they are not educated enough to understand even when I have told them.

Besides this insanity, it is clear that many of the fees are simply efforts to circumvent Gideon and its guarantee of free legal counsel.
Judge James R. Thurman of the Magistrate Court in Lee County, Ga., said his state's many fees, known there as add-ons, were a backdoor way to make poor people pay for the free lawyers guaranteed to them by the United States Supreme Court's decision in Gideon v. Wainwright in 1963.

"You're asking the people who can't afford to hire an attorney to pay anyway by making them pay through add-on fees," Judge Thurman said.

I mean, the Times outlines in that article how a man in Louisiana has been billed $127K for his fourth and final trial (the earlier murder convictions of 1961, 1964 and 1970 were all reversed), where he was finally convicted of a lesser and released after serving 44 years on a crime with a
21 year maximum. I don't know if you can put a price on 23 years extra in prison, Angola nonetheless. It is idiotic for Judge David A. Ritchie to rule that Mr. Rideau "was responsible for all of the charges billed by the prosecution" for his fourth trial.

Judge Ritchie apparently uses the but for cause from tort law, forgetting the more important proximate cause test. After all, even if the trials would not have occurred but for Wilbert Rideau's killing a bank teller, the proximate cause of his four trials? How about because the justice system was inept! It seems he spent 23 extra years, wasting both the state's money and his life, because he likely had inept trial counsel. After all, Louisiana's public defender system has long been inept.

Judge Ritchie should be familiar with the facts of this case. I mean, was it Mr. Rideau's fault that in his first trial he only had two appointed civil attorneys with no prior experience with a criminal case. Although they only had six weeks to prepare, among other errors at trial:
The judge refused to disqualify persons who were friends or relatives of the victim or the witnesses. He refused to disqualify a man who had only months before printed campaign literature for the prosecutor. The defense quickly used up its allotted challenges. As a result, the jury included two Calcasieu Parish sheriff's deputies, a relative of the victim, a vice president of the largest bank in the area (who had known the wounded bank manager-a key witness for the state-for twenty-five years), and three persons who admitted they saw Ham Reid "interviewing" Wilbert on television.
The second trial occurred in Baton Rougue, within the range of the television station that had broadcast Rideau's coerced confession, despite the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling that no trial could occur within such an area!.

What happened in the 1970 trial was a travesty, basically just another judicially sanctioned lynching of a black man without adequte legal counsel:
The attorney in charge of Rideau's 1970 defense readily acknowledged as much to Judge Ritchie. Baton Rouge attorney James Wood had only been out of Louisiana State University Law School for two years when he was summoned by the judge in charge of the 1970 trial to handle the defense. When he complained that he did not have the minimum five years legal experience required to represent a capital case, Wood testified recently, the judge told him not to worry because he was appointing as co-counsel a maritime law attorney to meet the criteria. But the understanding was that it was Wood's case. He was provided no compensation for himself and no money for investigation; he was given no resources at all. He defended Rideau out of his own pocket.
These three prior trials clearly involve racial prejudice. The only thing missing were the hoods. though one prosecutor in the second trial admitted his membership in the Citizens Council, the genteel counterpart to the Klu Klux Klan. Given Judge Ritchie's desire to allow transcripts from the 1970 trial to be read at trial, deciding that Rideau's (ineffective!) counsel already had an opportunity for cross, this suggests that the judge is either unaware of the history or none too concerned about the rights of citizens or the rule of law.

Regardless of Judge Ritchie's justification based upon this but for cause rather than proximate cause for costs, the citizens should not tolerate such a blatantly unjust ruling. Rideau played no role in making there be four trials, three of them unfair, or that he spent an extra 23 years in prison. Because Rideau lost so much of his life, if anything, the costs should be a wash and this most rehabilitated prisoner should be allowed to try and make a life outside of Angola.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rideau was found guilty of having killed a female bank teller he, along with others, had kidnapped in a botched bankrobbery. They tried to kill two others who survived. He is proof that the devil protects his own--he should have been executed. There is no good explanation for the jury's verdict, except sympathy and/or media induced blindness. How do you kill some poor woman bank teller you've kidnapped with a knife by accident or without intent? Rideau is, was, and always will be guilty of this killing--it just has a different name on it and a shorter sentence now. He demanded the out of town jurors and muddied the water with his expensive experts. Now he's out and can make money on his notoriety, so he can pay the costs. Certainly the community deprived forever of the good, upstanding, contributing citizen he murdered shouldn't pay this freight. Smell the coffee!

11:41 AM  
Anonymous Eric Parlin said...

The whole point you're missing is that the accused (the guilty) DID cause these trials. He caused them the second he decided to kill his female hostage. Given the chance, I gaurantee you he would have killed the other three hostages had they not escaped. This man is now free, booking speeches around the country. It seems that as a society we have forgotten the difference between right and wrong. It is wrong to murder steal, it is wrong to kidnap, it is wrong to murder. And, why should these costs be passed onto the taxpayers? "Free" for the criminals is not "free" for the taxpayers that are busy working their butts off everyday to pay their taxes and contribute to society (and therefore are NOT out robbing and killing). If anything, court costs should be raised to add deterrence to this type of behavior.

5:22 PM  

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