Letter: Judge Harrelson ruling was correctI read your coverage of County Attorney Gordon Moore’s complaints about the bill the county is paying for a defense expert in the Lisa Shane murder trial. Your readers might want to hear the other side of the story. Criminal cases more and more involve scientific evidence.
By: John Stuart, Minnesota State Public Defender, Worthington Daily Globe
I read your coverage of County Attorney Gordon Moore’s complaints about the bill the county is paying for a defense expert in the Lisa Shane murder trial. Your readers might want to hear the other side of the story.
Criminal cases more and more involve scientific evidence. In any case the prosecutor, Mr. Moore, or the defense, might need a DNA analyst, a computer expert, or a psychiatrist. The government always pays for what the prosecutor wants, either through the county or the state crime lab. The defense pays for its own experts if the accused person can afford it. What about people charged with serious crimes who have no money?
The U.S. Supreme Court decided in 1985 that the government had to provide expert witnesses needed to defend indigent people accused of crimes — people like Lisa Shane. The reason for this, they said, was “fundamental fairness.” This was already the law in Minnesota, and has been for over 40 years.
County Attorney Moore says the defense should tell the county they need an expert at the beginning of the year, so it could go in the budget. No way. First, nobody knows that far in advance what cases are going to have a trial.
More importantly, the “fairness” requirement behind this law is that a poor person’s lawyer doesn’t have to publicly beg for the money in advance, while a well-to-do criminal defendant is quietly writing a check. If the lawyer shows the judge that the client needs the witness, and can’t afford to pay, the law requires the court to order it privately. Judge Harrelson did his job here exactly right.
The point is, what’s written over the door of the Supreme Court, “Equal Justice Under Law.” Apparently the county attorney would rather have the courts work like the airlines, with folks with money flying first class and the rest of us sitting in the back of the plane. Fortunately under our Constitution, that’s not what we do.