If you are poor, your chances of going to prison for 40 years for something you didn’t do are higher than if you have a job and can afford to hire a lawyer who isn’t paid by the system trying to imprison you.
If you are employed as a police officer, it seems your chances of avoiding prosecution or getting a light sentence are even better.
In Atlanta, in 2006, rogue police officers shot and killed 92-year-old Kathryn Johnston during an illegal raid of her home.
Most people would get decades in prison for such an act, but the most serious sentence handed out to an Atlanta police officer was 10 years. That particular officer, Jason Smith, planted marijuana in Johnston’s home after the shooting to make her look like a drug dealer. Two other officers got sentences of five and six years.
Prosecutors let the officers plead guilty to voluntary homicide and violating someone’s civil rights. I think prosecutors would have sought more serious charges against people they didn’t work with every day.
More recently, in Habersham County, an area where law enforcement is known for tossing grenades at babies, the former police chief of tiny Mount Airy (population 604), and his wife, were sentenced to 25 weekends in the county jail for child abuse.
For less than six months the population of Mount Airy will be 602 during church services.
Richard and Cheryl Burton originally faced 28 counts of child cruelty for allegedly keeping their four adopted children locked in a room for years with little food.
Prosecutors dropped child molestation charges against the former police chief in exchange for guilty pleas to three of the child cruelty charges. Richard Burton will not have to register as a sex offender because of the plea deal.
I’m not sure what the average sentence is for child abusers, but I think it is more than 50 weekend days at the county jail.
Do you think the police chief and his wife will be treated better in jail than the average criminal?
Chief Assistant District Attorney Eddie Staples admits police are different.
“The witness list for the defense included law enforcement officers from this community,” Staples said. “Those are the people we go into court everyday and tell the jurors, ‘These are credible people.’ And they were going to come and testify to Richard Burton particularly, but the Burtons’ good character.”
Note: Some readers take issue with my lead, which says private attorneys do a better job than public defenders. The AJC has written about public defenders offices frequently. Recently, one public defender office was forced to hire more lawyers because the poor were not receiving adequate legal counsel.
Mother Jones says public defenders in Atlanta spent less than an hour on each case.
A 2002 study in Colorado concluded those with public defenders were given sentences three years longer than those who hired their own attorney.
Another study says: For white defendants, having a private lawyer makes it 2.7 times more likely they will get bail. Black defendants with a private lawyer are twice as likely to get the original charge reduced.
If you have evidence that says public defenders do a better job than private attorneys, please send me the link. I think public defenders work hard and do good work, but the reality of the situation is they cannot dedicate the same time and resources to a case as a private attorney.