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Attorney voucher programs and criminal justice reform

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If attorney voucher programs were in effect, they would decrease incarceration rates, make it difficult to convict people for victimless crimes.

America is a free country. We have the right to speak freely, to bear arms, to be safe from unlawful searches and seizures and cruel punishments, and even to put whatever we want into each of our own bodies. 

The government hardly taxes us and lets us pretty much do business as we see fit, and yet still protects us from criminals. There is very little corruption or misconduct, and if any politicians, judges, and officers are corrupt they are swiftly removed from their positions. 

If a citizen is suspected of committing a crime, they are presumed innocent until proven guilty. Once their sentence is over, all of their rights are restored promptly so they can live a happy and productive life that benefits everybody.

Of course, I’m being sarcastic.

In reality, we are quickly losing our right to speak freely. We can only bear specific arms under specific circumstances, and even then, not everybody is allowed to have guns. 

The police unlawfully raid houses, cars, and even the clothes on peoples’ backs. They often unlawfully seize property without a conviction, and even wrongfully kill people without consequence. 

The courts still give out life sentences for victimless crimes such as the possession of or voluntary sale of many substances, and don’t get their rights back after they have served their sentences. Additionally, the U.S. incarcerates a higher percentage of its citizens than any other country in the world.

The IRS taxes everything they can think to tax, and a multitude of various bureaucracies control every aspect of our lives. 

So, I ask: Are we really free? 

In an absolute sense, the most important sense, no. Not even close.

For every freedom we have gained, there are ten freedoms that government takes away from us.

Who would have thought in the 21st century we wouldn’t be allowed to show our faces, be next to people, go to restaurants, and that we would be forced to be injected with drugs whether we want them or not? Even though many of these restrictions were rolled back, the government has no intention of surrendering its newly attained emergency powers.

The criminal justice system encourages loss of freedom

Libertarians fight for market reforms and fight to advance civil liberties, yet criminal justice reform is an important issue that often gets overlooked.

Court-appointed attorneys do not do very much for defendants. This is because they do not have much of an incentive to do a good job; they are hired by the court system and are paid whether they do well or not. 

Many attorneys make a good chunk of their living from being appointed by the courts. So, if they have a reputation for fighting for their clients thus making the process take longer, then they may not be appointed in the future. The courts prefer the conviction process to be quick and simple so plea deals are encouraged. 

This causes innocent people to plead guilty, because it is often logical to take a lighter sentence than a heavier one if given the choice and they do not have faith that the process works.

On the other hand, wealthier defendants can afford to pay the best lawyers with the best success rates. These lawyers get clients based on their performance rather than having clients handed to them. Because of this, these lawyers actually fight for their clients. 

They do not care much about upsetting the court, because the court is not paying them and they may come from out of town anyways. If a wealthier client takes a plea deal it is usually a much better plea deal than poor people would be offered, but oftentimes they are found not guilty.

This is one of the many perverse incentives that diminish equality before the law, a principle the U.S. was founded on.

Give people attorney vouchers to create justice

Just like in any market, it’s more efficient to let consumers choose than have the state decide what you get. 

School voucher programs allow parents to choose which school to send their children to by giving them a voucher and allowing them to spend it at the school of their choice.

This encourages schools to offer better quality education than they would if they were given funds from the state automatically. Similarly, attorney voucher programs would allow clients to choose their own attorneys by having a voucher they can spend on whichever attorney they want. 

This would create competition in the appointed attorney space, incentivizing them to do a better job fighting for their clients. But it is important to note that the voucher should be for the same amount of money that the prosecutor makes to create an equal playing field between the prosecution and defense.

If attorney voucher programs were in effect, they would decrease incarceration rates, make it difficult to convict people for victimless crimes, and reduce costs on the taxpayer while keeping productive workers in the economy instead of in prisons. 

There are other criminal justice reforms that could be made. However, most of the proposed solutions hardly do anything for criminal justice reform, and the proposed solutions that would leave an impact are deemed too radical.

However, the principle of efficiency and justice go hand in hand: Give people money, and watch the market work.

For more content related to equal treatment under the law, be sure to check out our Law 201 playlist on YouTube.

This piece solely expresses the opinion of the author and not necessarily the organization as a whole. Students For Liberty is committed to facilitating a broad dialogue for liberty, representing a variety of opinions. If you’re a student interested in presenting your perspective on this blog, send your piece to [email protected], and mention SFL Blog in the email subject line for your chance to be published and be seen!


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