Aggressive use of the state’s RICO law to curb gang crime has increased the cost of prosecuting, and defending, accused individuals.
The Attorney General’s Gang Prosecution Unit based in Atlanta, with regional, satellite prosecutors and investigators in Albany and Augusta is seeking another $807,000 to expand with new units in Macon, Columbus, and Savannah. Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr supports the GOP governor’s budget recommendation to earmark $1.6 million to boost AG’s attorney salaries as part of a multi-year recruitment and retention plan.
Furthermore, after handling dozens of gang and racketeering cases over the past year, the state’s public defender’s council is requesting $5.7 million to pay for attorneys with special training in gang and RICO cases. The additional funding for RICO cases would allow the organization to provide legal representation to people who cannot afford an attorney while also meeting the growing trend of gang-related investigations, according to Omotayo Alli, executive director of the Georgia Public Defender Council.
It is becoming increasingly common for people accused of being involved in criminal enterprises like street gangs to be prosecuted under the Georgia Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Actv. Some noteworthy cases include prosecution of Donald Trump over alleged 2020 election rigging and murder and drug trafficking charges against Atlanta rapper Young Thug and members of his record label, Young Slime Life.
Should I Go with the Public Defender?
A handful of high-profile RICO defendants, like Donald Trump and Young Thug, have plenty of money to hire lawyers. At the other end of the scale, a handful of other RICO defendants, especially low-level defendants caught in police dragnets, don’t have two nickels to rub together, and they must accept public assistance defense lawyers. Everyone else in the middle usually has a choice. Should I hire a Marietta criminal defense lawyer or go with a public defender?
Choosing a lawyer, whether it’s choosing a public assistance or private lawyer, usually comes down to three factors:
- Experience: Both kinds of lawyers usually check this box. Some public defenders, like some private attorneys, are fresh out of law school, so they have little experience. However, for the most part, these lawyers are experienced. In fact, most judges won’t appoint inexperienced lawyers on serious cases, like murders and sexual assaults.
- Dedication: This area might favor some public assistance lawyers. Generally, public defenders don’t allow lawyers to handle outside cases. So, these attorneys are 100 percent dedicated to criminal law. This rule doesn’t apply to court-appointed and private attorneys. In many cases, these lawyers only handle a few criminal defense cases on the side.
- Accessibility: Many public assistance lawyers are inaccessible. Defendants only speak with their lawyers at court dates. At all other times, defendants send voice messages and emails that might or might not be returned. Admittedly, some private lawyers are almost as inaccessible. However, for the most part, private lawyers keep office hours and proactively communicate with defendants.
Before we answer the big question (should I go with the public defender), we should briefly address the kinds of public defenders in Cobb County and other jurisdictions. The kind of public defender could affect a defendant’s choice.
The public defender’s office is basically a law firm. The attorneys in that firm do most of the legal work. Occasionally, public defenders hire contract attorneys to handle specialized cases or if the staff lawyers are overworked.
Other judges appoint individual private lawyers (court-appointed lawyers) to handle individual cases. Such legal representation, like a public defender, is available if the defendant is indigent. Some judges require defendants to fill out extensive financial affidavits. Usually, the process is more unofficial. For example, most judges believe that if the defendant made bail, the defendant has enough money to hire a lawyer.
And now, the big question. If you hire a private Marietta criminal defense lawyer, you have a choice. Additionally, if the relationship doesn’t work out, for whatever reason, you’re typically free to hire another lawyer. If you go with a public assistance lawyer, you get whoever is assigned to you. The lawyer might or might not meet the aforementioned qualifications.
Criminal cases, even misdemeanors, have such dire direct and indirect consequences that legal representation should be a choice, not a chance.
Criminal defense lawyers have difficult jobs. Prosecutors have difficult jobs as well. They must put pieces of evidence together like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. Furthermore, all the pieces must fit together. If you mix the pieces of a Star Wars puzzle with a Star Trek puzzle, you get a mess.
State RICO investigations usually cross county lines. Therefore, multiple law enforcement agencies collaborate during the investigation. This collaboration often isn’t seamless.
Communication problems abound. Granted, inter-agency communication is much easier now, with the advent of secure instant message and other such networks. However, someone must still pick up the phone when it rings. Poor communication often means the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing. In this context, that lapse could create big problems down the road.
Search warrants are another problem area. Different judges in different jurisdictions define vague criminal law terms, like probable cause, differently.
For example, a snitch might have an excellent reputation as a reliable source in County A. But in County B, the snitch is a faceless person who may or may not be reliable. As a result, the reviewing judge might ask for more evidence or even refuse to sign the application. If that happens, and the left hand didn’t know what the right hand was doing, any seized evidence could be inadmissible, because the search was warrantless.
Students who do poorly on their homework often do poorly on tests. Likewise, in criminal prosecutions, lackluster investigations usually lead to lackluster results.
Beyond a reasonable doubt, the standard of proof at trial, is another vague criminal law term. Basically, jurors decide for themselves how much of the puzzle prosecutors must assemble. But one thing is certain. The fewer pieces the state puts together, the less likely a guilty verdict becomes.
RICO street gang cases lead to many arrests but few convictions. For a free consultation with an experienced Marietta criminal defense lawyer, contact The Phillips Law Firm, LLC. We routinely handle matters in Cobb County and nearby jurisdictions.