Should criminal defendants have to pay for their prosecution?

Should criminal defendants have to pay for their prosecution?

There’s an idea out there that it might be a good idea to have defendants pay the costs of their prosecution if they’re found guilty. The main cost we’re talking about is paying the attorneys who are prosecutors. There are a couple of ways to look at it. First, not everyone can afford to pay. Second, it would probably change the way prosecutors handle their cases.

The fact that many criminal defendants are poor makes it clear that this wouldn’t work for every case. On the other hand, some politicians and CEOs who are convicted of white-collar crimes would certainly be able to pay. Does it make sense to have some people pay and not others?

The point of having defendants pay in the first place is to take the burden off taxpayers. Makes sense. If you murder someone, you should have to pay for all the consequences, including how much it costs the criminal justice system to prosecute you for your crime. Another point would be that having to pay these costs is a deterrent. I’m not sure it would deter someone who knew they couldn’t pay in the first place. So again, it might only work as a deterrent on wealthy criminals, if at all.

Some legal scholars suggest that this so-called “loser-pays-all” rule will end up costing more in the long run because it will change the way prosecutors do their jobs. Prosecutors have a budget, and it factors into their decision on whether to fight a case or plea bargain. If they knew the defendant was going to pay their costs, then they might be less likely to settle, even in a case where settlement might be the best option for both sides. So costs essentially would go up in these cases. And if the case is lost, then taxpayers would still have to pay and the final bill might be higher. Another argument against it is that prosecutors might focus more on the cases where the costs could be paid back, leaving other cases – those that have more public safety implications – on a back burner.

This isn’t something that’s going to happen tomorrow, if at all. Just food for thought.


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