Editorial: Those who can afford lawyers should pay

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 12, 2002

United States residents have a right to legal representation when accused of a crime. It’s even in the famous Miranda warning, which police are supposed to recite to suspects when they’re arrested: &uot;You have the right to speak with an attorney. If you cannot afford a lawyer, one will be provided for you at government expense.&uot;

The key words, in the case of Roger Schleicher, is if you cannot afford a lawyer.

Schleicher, an Ellendale man who was convicted of killing Jack Johannsen of Waseca in December of 2000, was the subject of a Minnesota Supreme Court ruling that says people with enough assets to pay for an attorney don’t have the right to a government-financed public defender.

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Schleicher’s assets, which included a $100,000 house, a 1997 automobile and monthly disability checks, the court ruled, were enough that he should have been expected to pay for his own attorney.

The state and local governments already spend a lot of money dealing with crime; they pay for police and sheriff’s offices, jails, judges, court personnel and much more. They pay for public defenders when defendants genuinely lack the resources to finance their own defense. Governments don’t need the further burden of providing defenders for people who can afford it themselves.

Schleicher apparently knew he might be expected to pay his own way; after all, he gave his house to his son as soon as he was declared competent to stand trial &045; a clear attempt to unload assets.

The Supreme Court made the right decision in this case. At some point, governments should stop paying for crime.