Justice, Rich and Poor

Ken at Popehat has some good thoughts, prompted by the dropping of the rape case against Dominique Strauss-Kahn.

The critical narrative holds that this case shows that the rich and the powerful are above the law. I’m not so sure. I don’t believe the DA took this route because he was afraid to prosecute a rich and powerful man, or as a favor to rich and powerful forces behind the curtain. But there’s no doubt that money and power get you a vastly better chance of this result. They get it because rich and powerful people can field a team of lawyers and investigators to find problems with the case. Those problems are often there — but usually the defendants don’t have the money to hire teams of people to find them. The rich and the powerful draw media attention, which leads to people coming forward with information that might not otherwise come out. Sometimes this hurts the defense, but just as often it yields critical impeachment evidence about prosecution witnesses. Perversely, this case shows how wealth and power and lead prosecutors to discover flaws in their own case. Most rape cases wouldn’t get anywhere near the police and prosecutorial scrutiny that this one did. But the police and the DA knew they were under the spotlight, and knew that Strauss-Kahn could field a serious team, and devoted vast resources to the case — resources that revealed issues that might never have been discovered in a rape case against the poor and the obscure.

Why decry the quality of justice that the rich and powerful get, when we could decry the level of justice that the poor get? The justice that the rich and powerful get illustrates how the system can meticulously test the adequacy of evidence against an accused. Why not try to raise every defendant closer to that level, rather than suggest that we ought to tear down the adequate justice available to the few? Believe me, the government lovesthat narrative — loves it when people view a vigorous and thorough defense as some sort of scam to be scorned. Resentment of the justice that Strauss-Kahn can afford is the government’s weapon, which it wields to get you to accept steadily less and less justice in every other case.

I am sure there are situations where the rich get a special break, but anyone who wants to argue that they systematically get off easier has to explain Martha Stewart, who went to jail not for insider trading by lying to the police, a charge no street hustler would ever be brought to court on.  And how about Barry Bonds, on whom the full force of and resources of the US Government is focused for a crime I can find going on in about any Gold's Gym in the country.

The imbalance of wealth and power are on the prosecution side, and politicians trying to get elected propose laws constantly to increase this imbalance.  The rich have the resources to stand up to this onslaught, the poor often do not.


  1. the other coyote:

    Don't forget Plaxico Buress. Bryant Gumbel updated his story on HBO's Real Sports last night. The guy doesn't hurt anyone but himself with his own gun (which had had a license for) and does two years in prison, because Mayor Bloomburg said so.

  2. bc:

    Thanks for the interesting link/excerpt. This is a take on the DSK case that I hadn't thought of.

  3. sch:

    Both Bonds and Martha Stewart were tried for lying/perjury, a favorite political prosecutorial device when there is
    minimal or no crime involved otherwise, e.g. testimony before congress. Multiple others were involved in 'insider trading' in the Martha Stewart case, including family members of the person who forwarded the info to Stewart and none served any time, though may
    have to pay penalties. Lance Armstrong is the focus of a megabuck stalking and that is likely what he will end up being
    charged with: to wit 'lying or perjury' when asked under oath whether he used stimulants of some kind or another, when he
    is asked and if he denies having done so, prosecutors will take Hincapies's and Landis' statements that Lance did to their
    knowledge and charge Lance.

  4. Russ R.:

    A similar argument: "Warren Buffett is absolutely right... it's unfair that he as a billionaire pays income tax at a lower rate than his secretary. Clearly her tax rate should be lowered to match his."

  5. blokeinfrance:

    My understanding was that it was the prosecution who uncovered the dodgy background of the maid. So maybe they run checks on witnesses routinely, in which case justice is served for rich and poor alike.

  6. caseyboy:

    Russ R, Warren Buffet pays a lower overall tax rate because of the complicated structuring he uses to manage his various investments. He takes no W-2 income out of Berkshire so he avoids withholding at appropriate bracket rates. His income flows from his highly structured investments in the form of capital gains, taxed at a lower rate. He could easily remedy the variance by collapsing the structures and taking ordinary income from his investments. I suspect Warren's tax the rich mantra has more to do with preventing his younger competitors from gaining the critical mass of wealth necessary to dominate and move markets. Warren and Soros are alike in that way.

  7. Corky Boyd:

    No justice system is perfect in equal justice before the law. As a generality the US system is far better than most. The arrest and charging of DSK supports that.

    DSK's brazenness was probably encouraged by the fact he would have escaped justice in his home country. The Napoleanic system would have a judge acting as fact finder, judge and jury. Judges there are in a priveliged strata and would likely give consideration based on DSK's pedigree.

    The case was dropped here, not because of favoritism, but because the prosecution had no case.

  8. Smock Puppet, Shadenfreude Expert To The Stars:

    >>>> Why decry the quality of justice that the rich and powerful get, when we could decry the level of justice that the poor get?

    Because people are Justice Communists, not Justice Capitalists... :^D

    They want to share the misery, not the bounty.

  9. Hunt Johnsen:

    Charles Dyer's problems may be and example - apparently he's pissed-off the powers that be. Sounds like they keep throwing charges at him until something sticks.