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When money talks, celeb defendants walk

High-profile defenses with deep pockets outdo even typically powerful prosecutions.

Defense attorneys are always complaining about the power and endless resources of the prosecution while the little defense team is always at a significant disadvantage. Often that is true, particularly in cases where defendants are assigned public defenders with limited budgets. However, it is also true that when the rich or infamous are on trial, this becomes an entirely different ballgame.

The Scott Peterson case serves as a prime example of this situation. Prosecutors Rick Distaso and David Harris are hard-working public servants and adequate lawyers. Distaso gave a sufficient opening statement against Peterson laying out a chronology of Peterson’s suspicious activity in the hours surrounding his wife’s disappearance. Yet, when you compare it to Peterson’s attorney, Mark Geragos, the prosecution doesn’t seem all that adequate anymore. Geragos wove together a far more compelling story. Not because his case is better, but because he’s just a better lawyer who has devoted significant resources to this case.

Those who watched the manslaughter trial of former NBA star Jayson Williams made similar comments about the lawyers there. And it may turn out to be true in the Michael Jackson and Kobe Bryant cases as well. Even in the O.J. Simpson case, the prosecutors were clearly outfoxed by a well-funded defense team.

Defendants have built-in advantages in the system. The burden of proof is on the prosecutors, and judges tell jurors that if something can be interpreted in two different ways, they should interpret it in the way most favorable to the defense. Generally, it’s only the defense that can appeal a verdict that they don’t like. Prosecutors can’t. So when the attorneys for the defense are also better, sometimes even better funded, it’s easy to see why the defendants often have an unfair advantage. It’s the best system in the world, but it’s particularly good for those with a lot of money.