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  • Writer's pictureHaywood Sawyer

Are the Scales of Justice Really Balanced?

Updated: May 18

I have been working on court-appointed criminal cases since 2015, and I have had defendants ask me if court-appointed attorneys work just as hard as privately paid attorneys. From what I have seen over the years, court-appointed attorneys work their butts off for their clients, and what is scary is they barely get paid to do the job. In this blog, I want you to understand the inter-workings of court-appointed cases and who holds the money. Ultimately, are the scales balanced for the prosecutor and the defense? Is it an equal playing field when the prosecutor and law enforcement have an unlimited budget to put you in prison, but your defense team can only work within the budget the Judge sets out?

So what are a court-appointed attorney and a court-appointed criminal defense investigator? After you get arrested, you can fill out some paperwork to show that you are indigent and can not afford an attorney. If you meet the county's qualifications, the court appoints an attorney to represent you in your criminal matter. (Thank God for Gideon vs. Wainwright) It is a toss-up if you get a piece of a crap defense attorney or one of the best. The court-appointed defense attorney can then file a Motion/Order for the appointment of an investigator to investigate your case independently. In another blog, I will go over what an actual criminal defense investigator does and how to tell if you have a piece of a crap defense attorney.

While you navigate the world of the criminal justice system, law enforcement agencies and the prosecutor have an unlimited budget to put an innocent person or a guilty person in prison. They have unlimited access to experts that can testify against you and make you question your sanity. Law Enforcement has countless personnel to get the case right, and the criminal defense investigator often uncovers many errors and missing information. At trial, the prosecutor typically has two prosecutors and staff from the District Attorney's Office to help them throughout the problem.

What about the defense? Well, the budget is going to be a lot tighter, and the Judge is the one that will decide whether to grant or not grant funds to have your case thoroughly investigated and provide you with the best defense. An example of this is Judges typically only allow $750.00 to start working on a first-degree felony case. These cases include homicide, aggravated sexual assault, and other serious crimes. Once the investigator has run out of funds, the attorney has to request additional funds to continue the work. The Judges usually will want a detailed estimate showing what work needs to be done, and they will decide on what needs to be done. Recently we submitted an estimate for $1,100.00, and the Judge only approved $400.00. The investigator has to determine the most critical work and stay within the $400.00 allowed. The work that needs to be performed is listed for the defense attorney, so they can use this in an appeal since the defense can not be prepared for trial. Then there is the issue of experts for the defense. Experts are not cheap, so the defense attorney has to go back to the Judge to explain why we need an expert. We may get the expert; it is all up to the Judge. Local Judges have said they will not pay for a criminal defense investigator to be present during the trial, which is mind-blowing, but it is the reality. The investigator serves a vital role in the trial to assist, most of the time sole defense attorney because, commonly, the court will only appoint one attorney to represent the defendant. So ask yourself, are the scales of justice balanced?


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