High cost of justice worth the price

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Tribune editorial board

A rash of crime has recently made headlines in our county, five homicides in just more than one month's time. No doubt each is taking a costly toll on the victims, the accused and, strangely enough, the taxpayers.

While each of the people charged in the cases are innocent until proven guilty, one has to wonder: what drives a person to kill.

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What kind of rage, anger or hatred consumes a mind so quickly that it becomes capable of killing another human being?

In the case of a murder and ultimate conviction of the perpetrator, no one wins. The families of both victim and criminal are scarred forever. The recent cases are no different.

Obviously our court system will begin to sort out the cases and prosecutors will attempt to prove guilt, while the defense will do its best to deflect any accusations and cast a doubt in the minds of the jurors.

All too often the taxpayers must fund that defense. In the court system, it is described as being "indigent." The quick, cynics among us might say, "Why should taxpayers have to pay to defend someone who has been accused of a crime, especially ones that are particularly costly to defend, such as murder cases."

The reason is clear: in our country, unlike others in the world, a person is innocent until proven otherwise and if the accused cannot afford proper legal defense, the government will fund it.

It's a double-edged sword. The cost of defending such cases can be steep - very steep. Consider the recent rash of killings in our county. If each of the cases goes to trial, the cost to the county could severely strap the county's already struggling budget.

But the cost of not giving someone a proper defense could be even more costly.

Government must do all within its power to eliminate any sliver of a chance that a person may be convicted because he or she couldn't afford a better attorney. Justice is often depicted as a blindfolded woman carrying a sword in one hand and scales in another. The sword symbolizes the power she wields; the scales symbolize the impartiality of justice.

Keeping the scales of justice impartial is worth it, whatever the cost.