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Should the government provide criminal defendants free legal services? One objectivist gives this very well articulated answer that it should not. However, I am curious to see what other objectivists think.

If not, then why should the government pay for the prosecution of criminals? Is not the prosecution of criminals simply the government providing a plaintiff with free legal services? A crime is a rights violation. However, for many rights violations (e.g., breach of contract, negligent harm, etc.) the victim has to pay for their own legal services if they want redress, i.e., they have to sue in civil court. Some rights violations are so bad, however, that we make them crimes, and in doing so we take the vindication of the violation out of the hands of the victim and place it in the hands of the state. What justifies this? How does this justification not apply to the defendant as well?

It seems to me that the argument that it is wrong to force some people to pay for the defense of other people is simply misapplied here—in a free society the funding for the government would not be coercive and thus paying for defendants’ legal services is not taking money from anyone against their will any more than paying for the prosecutor is.

Ultimately the government is going to pay a certain amount of money (“X”) for the prosecution of a case. This expenditure is justified because it promotes the government’s legitimate function of protecting rights, which it does through dispensing justice. How X is divided (some to court reporter, some to guards, some to prosecutor, etc.) seems irrelevant as long as every expenditure contributes to the legitimate purpose of the criminal justice system, i.e., to seeking justice. Thus, if spending part of X on the legal defense leads to more just results, then it seems legit to me.

asked Dec 14 '11 at 17:09

ericmaughan43's gravatar image

ericmaughan43 ♦
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edited Dec 14 '11 at 17:10

In a criminal complaint, the plaintiff is the state. The theory is that people are joining together to engage in their right to self-defense. This right to self-defense is available to everyone, not just to the victim(s) of the crime. One need not wait until after one has become a victim to engage in self-defense. However, in a non-emergency situation this right to self-defense is delegated to the state.

Certainly it is in the rational self interest of non-victims to pay for the prosecution of a criminal, once you've instituted a proper code of criminal law, anyway.

(Dec 14 '11 at 19:40) anthony anthony's gravatar image

As for whether or not criminal defendants should receive free legal services, I believe that we all have the right to the presumption of innocence until guilt is proven beyond a reasonable doubt. In an adversarial system of justice, that means free legal services for those who cannot pay, or else you've proven nothing. In an inquisitorial system, this isn't an issue. Which is more efficient is, I believe not a question of rights.

In any case, if a criminal defendant is found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, his/her legal fees should be subject to restitution, if and when s/he can afford it.

(Dec 14 '11 at 19:52) anthony anthony's gravatar image

I just listened to Dr. Hsieh's answer, and her answer was actually much more nuanced than "No. The government should not provide criminal defendants with free legal services." She says that before public defenders can be taken away, the system of justice needs to be reformed, and she even mentions the adversarial system as perhaps one of the problems.

She says that the goal of the government should be to seek justice, not just to convict defendants. To my mind that means finding innocent people not guilty, so the government does provide free legal services, just not a public defender.

(Dec 14 '11 at 20:21) anthony anthony's gravatar image
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Asked: Dec 14 '11 at 17:09

Seen: 1,562 times

Last updated: Dec 14 '11 at 20:21