When Money Talks – The Justice System

By very definition justice is the “maintenance of what is just or right by the exercise of authority or power; assignment of deserved reward or punishment”. Thus it would be logical to assume that the justice system is predicated upon this definition. This however is not always the case.

With the click of a button you can find a whole host of examples from around the world where justice has not been served, and it would be very easy to isolate these instances to corrupt governments and law enforcers in places such as North Korea, India and those in the middle east. This however would be a gross misrepresentation. The West enjoys, on the whole, a set of legal privileges that are denied to many in other parts of the world. But the system isn’t perfect, and as recent scandals such the allegations of bribery within FIFA show, money can have a large part to play. This issue doesn’t just concern large corporations however, and we’re not talking obvious crimes like bribing the judge or jury, using intimidation etc. We’re talking about the problems in the system that are far more insidious and embedded in its foundations. To illustrate this point it is perhaps best to draw attention to a well documented case, that of Robert Durst.

Earlier this year, a documentary was released by HBO. That documentary was The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst. For those that don’t know, Robert Durst belongs to a New York property empire worth billions of dollars. In 2003 he was acquitted of murder, despite having admitted that he dismembered his neighbour Morris Black. At the time the documentary was released, Durst also faced speculation that he was involved in the disappearance of his first wife in 1982, and the murder of his close friend Susan Berman in 2000. Shortly after the documentary’s release, Durst was arrested and is due to be extradited to Los Angeles to face a murder related to Susan Berman.

Why is all this important? Let’s focus specifically on the case of Morris Black. Due to good fortune, luck or whatever you want to call it, Robert Durst happened to be born with money – despite the horrific nature of the crime he was placed under arrest for, he was able to pay the bail bond upfront and maintain his liberty until trial. Whilst in no way should a person be berated for the wealth they have inherited or amassed by legitimate means, if a person of lesser means was accused of the same crime they would not be in a position to retain their freedom by paying the bail bond (and as Durst did, go on the run). This is completely biased and unfair precisely because at it’s crux lies the fundamental favour that system affords to those that can pay their way out, at least temporarily.

Now as for the trial, Durst was also in the position whereby he could afford not just one lawyer, but two – and two top lawyers at that. Again, this is by happy accident of birth, and yet in a criminal case, a client’s lawyer has a huge impact on the final verdict – it can be the difference between arguing a case well, and getting the client a not guilty verdict. Just to remind you, Durst admitted dismembering Black and yet the brilliant self-defence narrative that his team put forward allowed him to be acquitted. The same resources, by which I mean the defence team lawyers and researchers, would not ordinarily be available to the average person accused of the same crime. Again, the system seems to favour the person who can throw the most amount of money at the case (although having a top lawyer doesn’t mean you’ll automatically get off scot-free).

You could argue that this is an isolated case. Perhaps so, although that would be highly improbable. There are cases around the world that receive far less media attention and press, yet are no less serious concerning wealthy defendants who may well be guilty and yet receive very different verdicts. As as disclaimer it should be made clear that everyone is presumed innocent until proven guilty, and rightly so, and that injustice doesn’t just befall the less wealthy any more than it does the well off. But in system that is meant to be fair and just, it seems almost unbelievable that money could tip the scales of case instead of what is right and true.

After all, shouldn’t the system be in place to level the playing field? It shouldn’t matter how much you’re worth, how well a lawyer can manipulate the case, only whether you are guilty of the crime or innocent.

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