15 March 2005

Increased Funding for Prosecutors

Hard to feel sorry for prosecutors about how much they are paid. The offices I see are usually staffed pretty well and often have support staff which does a lot of the grunt work. As well, some counties add funding out of their own pockets to boost income for prosecutors. And prosecutors don't have to pay for things like health insurance.

However, this is probably true:
The emphasis for years has been on defense lawyer services, Virginia Beach Commonwealth?s Attorney Harvey L. Bryant said. While those services are important to a healthy criminal justice system, he said, there has to be a balance.

In 2002, the state allocated $32.4 million less for prosecutors than it did for public defenders.
Of course, it's also misleading. Despite a constant drumbeat about "defense lawyer services" the General Assembly really hasn't done much. Fees paid to court appointed attorneys in Virginia are capped so low that pay for indigent defense here is among the lowest paying in the nation (if not the lowest).

As well, there are hidden ways which prosecutors get allocated funds by the General Assembly. If I need an expert or an investigator I have to get court approval and the funds come from those the General Assembly has allocated. If the prosecutor needs advice from an expert he can call the Commonwealth's forensic lab. If he needs something investigated he calls the police, deputies, troopers, etc. in his jurisdiction. If the amount of money spent by police preparing a case was credited against the prosecutors (even at 50%) and the work done for prosecutors at the forensic lab was added in I suspect their "allotted" funds would dwarf the money allotted for defendants.

[addendum] Commonwealth Conservative makes a better case for an increase.

I must admit that I never know exactly what to make of claimed case loads by prosecutors. If the prosecutor is counting all the traffic cases which the local troopers bring to court it isn't really an accurate count. On the other hand, I don't really think that it's fair for prosecution offices only to be given credit for felonies. There are a number of misdemeanors (domestic violence, DUI's, etc.) where the charge is serious enough and carries ramifications such that both a prosecutor and defense attorney should be present. Another issue might be the fact that in most cases of a case load the prosecutor really isn't going to have to do too much; a lot of cases just move through the system without any doubt as to their final result.

I'd suggest an accounting which took in only actual cases tried on not guilty pleas but there again that's not really fair because in close cases a prosecutor may work the case hard to get it where the defendant takes a plea. As well, prosecutors have to be generally ready in just about every case they have on the docket. While 95% of them are going to go smoothly how does he know if I'm going to show up, take an otherwise routine case to trial, and cite case law to support an argument that my client can't be convicted of robbery because the color of his shirt was pink and green.

Hey, maybe we could tie prosecutor funding to indigent defense funding. Every time defense attorneys get a raise prosecutors would get a raise! Sounds like a good idea to me.

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