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John Oliver Public Defender.png

'Last Week Tonight' On Public Defenders Is Why The Legal System Needs To Be Burned To The Ground

By Emily Cutler | Videos | September 14, 2015 |

By Emily Cutler | Videos | September 14, 2015 |

Do you guys ever play What’s The Worst That Can Happen? As far as I can tell, it might be specifically a thought exercise utilized by Irish- Americans. I have only anecdotal evidence, but I’ve found that anytime someone was raised in a large Irish family, they experience what might be qualified as a compulsion to determine what is the worst thing that could happen to them (this evidence might also be the result of me knowing a lot of Irish sons of bitches. So, you know, lots of science mistakes here).

For instance, if you’re about to get on an airplane, you might think the worst thing that could happen to you is that the plane crashes and you die. You’d be wrong. The worst thing is that you crash, survive the crash and then have to keep yourself alive in whatever deserted wilderness you’ve been dumped. Have you people not seen Alive? That is the worst. You might also be thinking, “Of course I’ve never considered any of this, you crazy person. What’s wrong with you?” In that case, I’d argue you’re probably not Irish.

Bear in mind, this game isn’t played as any kind of preparation for The Worst Thing. I don’t map out all of the ways things can go poorly so I’m ready for them. I just need to identify what that Worst Thing is. Which leads me to why I brought up this really morbid game in relation to John Oliver. Oliver and Last Week Tonight returned yesterday, and gave me even more proof that getting arrested for any serious crime is The Worst Thing. Of all of the Things, I’ve determined that being arrested and prosecuted is the one that would most easily ruin my life.

Notice I didn’t day “being convicted” would be The Worst Thing. The result of the trial is actually negligible in my view. Just the arrest and subsequent prosecution itself would ruin me for one very good reason: I’m sort of poor. Not actually poor. I need to make sure I qualify that I understand I’m significantly luckier than a lot of people. I have all of my basic needs met, and I’m in no danger of being hungry or homeless. But between a lot of poor spending habits in my 20s and going back to college in my 30s, I have almost no savings. So if I were arrested for a somewhat serious charge, I probably couldn’t make bail. Which itself is a nightmare. If I couldn’t make bail, I couldn’t attend class meaning I’d get kicked out of college. And explaining, “I totally wanted to go to Auditing and the Auditing Professional so I could graduate and become a CPA, but I was on trial for a crime I didn’t commit” doesn’t sound great.

There’s also the fact that I wouldn’t be able to afford an attorney, and I’d need to have one provided for me. That’s where Oliver comes in. I’ve known for a while that public defenders are overworked, underpaid, and generally neglected and disrespected. What I didn’t know was that being provided an overworked, underpaid, almost ineffective counsel can still cost you. Or that even if you didn’t commit the crime, statistically you’ll plead guilty just to avoid being kept in jail because you can’t afford bail. Or that public defenders have through a terribly under funded system been reduced in a lot of cases to Person-Who-Spends-Seven-Minutes-Helping-The-Prosecutors-Iron-Out-Your-Plea-Deal.

I don’t think that anyone would look forward to being prosecuted for any crime. That would be a pretty big damper on anyone’s life. But as someone with some experience evaluating how terrible things can get, I say this with a degree of certainty: when the absolute Worst Thing that can happen to a person is any level of involvement with the legal system, your legal system is fucked.