Financial, emotional tolls weigh on scales of justice
I'VE been watching Making a Murderer lately (I know I'm late to the party) and it really got me thinking about the presumption of innocence in an underfunded criminal justice system.
In theory, if you are charged with a criminal offence, you are presumed to be innocent until proven guilty.
You also have the right to go to trial and challenge the charges.
But the reality for most people is that they cannot afford either the financial cost of hiring a solicitor or the emotional toll of protracted court proceedings.
Of course many solicitors (myself included) take on clients whose representation is funded by Legal Aid Queensland.
The basic idea is that no one should be denied justice because they cannot afford a good lawyer.
But funding is limited and it is almost impossible to secure trial funding for all but the most serious cases.
On top of that, the system itself is built to reward guilty pleas.
A person that pleads guilty is considered to have shown remorse and will almost always get a lighter sentence than someone who is found guilty after losing a trial.
It's easy to see why an innocent person would be tempted to avoid the stress, expense and possible consequences of a trial, especially where the charges aren't serious.
This all makes sense when you are looking at the system as a whole.
Courts wouldn't be able to operate if everyone ran a full trial on every simple traffic matter.
But I think it's important to remember that the people who find themselves caught in the criminal justice system are more than just statistics.