Law and Economics — 06 July 2018
Paying For Criminal Defense – Ethics

NSTexas, a criminal defense law firm in Odessa, Texas, is one of the many criminal defense law firms that have a hard time finding clients that can afford their services, leading many residents of Texas to use a public defender who may not have the experience and knowledge to provide them with an adequate defense.

This brings us to the ethical debate on whether or not criminal defense law firms should charge as much as they do. The two sides of this debate are as follows:

  1. Criminal defense law firms can charge whatever they feel that their experience and knowledge is worth.
  2. Criminal defense lawyers have the ethical duty to represent alleged criminals and should make their services more easily accessible to lower-income families because everyone is entitled to a good defense.

Arguments In Favor of Side 1 

If you are shopping for a car would you expect to pay the same price for a Toyota and a Porsche? Both of them are cars but clearly one is more expensive than the other. Do you expect to pay the same price at a McDonald’s and a 5-star Michelin restaurant? Both of them serve food but one is also more expensive than the other.

Why should criminal defense lawyers be any different? Criminal defense cases can be highly complex and involve several outside experts all of which charge for their services. Law firms who work hours and hours building defenses, negotiating with prosecutors and working with witnesses should be more expensive than a law firm or a public defender who does not.

Arguments in Favor of Side 2 

When an alleged criminal is arrested and read their Miranda rights, he or she is told, “You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you.” But they are not warned that this provided attorney will not be able to represent at the same capacity as an expensive highly experienced attorney or that they will not have the opportunity to sit down at length and interview public defenders. They are assigned randomly and often have other cases that they are working on – not being able to devote enough time to your case.

Criminal lawyers who actively fight for their clients’ rights should see how unethical this situation is and be an advocate for all criminals, not just those who can afford their services.

This debate will continue to rage on until the public defense system in our country gets a major overhaul.

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Dolores Obrien

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