Too Wealthy to Be Treated Fairly? It's Possible for the Rich to Face Biases in Court

Which is fairer: letting a defendant with extensive financial means stay free on bond to enjoy the comforts of his or her own home while a defendant of lesser means has to sit in a prison cell, or depriving a wealthy defendant of the ability to stay at home during his or her trial just so that there's no disparity between the way the rich and poor are treated? If you're a defendant of significant financial means, this is what you should know.

The system may actually be stacked in your favor.

There's long been the notion that a cash-bail system favors the wealthy—and that may be true. Poor defendants are going to have to struggle to come up with the 10 percent to 20 percent on average that the bail bondsman requires in order to avoid having to sit in jail for months while your trial is pending. Worse, that money is gone—as the bondsman's fee—so that represents a significant financial loss for the defendant. Even those who can afford bail may not be able to afford something like an ankle monitor—a condition these days for many people on bond. The fee for the monitor has to come out of the defendant's pocket.

Experts say that a staggering amount of the almost 97 percent of federal court cases are resolved through plea bargains. Defendants choose this largely because pleading guilty will get them out of jail with time served. Better a criminal record over a longer time in jail, they figure, even if they may eventually win at trial.

The wealthy defendant, on the other hand, may be able to afford the bail directly to the court, and that means he or she will get the money back once he or she shows up for the trail. Affording the ankle monitor may be inconvenient, but it is possible.

Public opinion, however, may be turning against you.

On the other hand, public opinion may be turning against, you simply because you have the means to use the very system that you're required to use in order to stay out of jail pending trial.

Prosecutors routinely argue that defendants who have the means to afford bail also have the means to afford to skip out on trial and evade prosecution. When bail is granted, prosecutors want extra reassurance the defendant won't run off.

Take the case of the Chinese billionaire arrested in New York on bribery charges. Able to meet bail by putting up a combination of cash and his apartment as surety, he's required to allow security guards to monitor him, to let those guards use reasonable force if necessary to stop him from escaping, and pay for his ankle monitor. Prosecutors recently objected to the idea that he be allowed a walk outside once a week and were irate he was stopping for carry-out Chinese food on the way back from his attorney's office, saying those visits weren't allowed. 

He still is faring better than the Turkish gold trader who was denied bail because it "fostered inequity" in favor of wealthy defendants. Keep in mind, these are people who are—by law—presumed innocent until convicted. Yet, the sentiment seems to be that they should sit in jail precisely because they can afford to meet the financial demands of a broken system just so it doesn't appear they are being treated better than the poor.

Cases like these illustrate why it is important to have an aggressive criminal-defense team on your side as soon as you are arrested. This may be the only way to avoid being caught in the trap of being "too wealthy" to be treated fairly.

For more information, consider contacting an attorney near you. You can find an attorney by visiting sites such as