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Peter J. Schaffer, Attorney at Law devotes his practice to New York State criminal defense and the defense  of all federal criminal matters throughout the United States. From his office[…]

Bias in the criminal justice system and how to rectify it

Peter Schaffer:  Well, I think that there are worse places.  I mean I practice in Connecticut and New York and certainly there’s other parts of the country where, although we all are supposedly bound by the same constitution, the same general principles, there are places where a person, even though presumed innocent, that that’s probably not the case.  So I don’t travel too much as far as my practice, but I have gone around the country at various meetings, seminars and training things and I mean I feel fairly confident that in the northeast, in New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts, that there is probably more
attention and more care given to make sure that people really get the presumption of innocence and get a fair treatment in the criminal justice systems.  That’s not to say that people always do, but if you were to compare it to other parts of the country, I think we’re doing better.

Question: As a defendant, what state do you least want to be prosecuted in?

Peter Schaffer:  Well, I don’t know all of the states.  You know, from what I’ve heard about places, you know, Mississippi, Alabama, certainly Texas and Florida are very liberal with the use of the death penalty.  I wouldn’t only limit it to the south, but again, my knowledge of everything that goes on in the country is not great, but those places are traditionally not known for being a great place to be a criminal defendant.

Do you see evidence of systemic bias in the New York Criminal justice system?

Peter Schaffer:  I think everywhere there still is.  I still think that there is racism, sexism, classism.  Maybe the most would be bias on the basis of class because people that can afford to be out on bail, that can afford to spend a tremendous amount on their defense are certainly gonna fare better for the most part than people that are not.  And I think that the general feeling is, you know, small matters that people in the majority that are at least middle class, they’re gonna do much better for the most part than poor people that will probably in a lot of cases plead
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guilty because there’s really- they don’t see much of a benefit.  They may be better off pleading guilty to get out quicker than trying to fight a case in which they might prevail but they can’t pay bail.  So I still think even though New York is better than most places, there is certainly bias.

Question: How can that be rectified?

Peter Schaffer:  I mean it’s only- bias exists just as it exists in society and I think, you know, I’m not that much of an optimist that we’ve come far enough.  So I think there would have to be a general change everywhere.  And if you look at the history of man and the relationship of people around the world, I would say that I’m not too optimistic that we’re going to ameliorate bias.  But we do what we can and like I say, I think in some situations we do better in New York than other places.
What is the best way to equalize representation for defendants?

the better way would be to fund the criminal justice- the lawyers for people at the lower end of the economic scale and also to spend money on programs that would prevent people from even coming in contact with the criminal justice system ‘cause most of the people that are in the criminal justice system are there because they are poor.  I mean I
believe that very strongly.  I believe that the fact that most of the people that are in prison are there for drug offenses and that drugs for the most part comes out of poverty.

Question: Did the burden of proof shift from prosecution to defense after the O.J. trial?

Peter Schaffer:  No.  I don’t think that on a general day-to-day basis that the OJ Simpson trial really changed what we see in court on a day-to-day basis.  I think the idea that the burden of proof is on the prosecution and that people are presumed innocent, I think it’s a great theory and a lot of times it rings true, but in a lot of places, people presume that someone that’s arrested that’s before them must have done something wrong, sort of that where there’s smoke, there’s fire, and I don’t know if any one trial is gonna change people’s perception on that.