Attorney Dean Strang came to Shannon Hall in Memorial Union Tuesday night to participate in the Distinguished Lecture Series. Strang, who many know from the Netflix documentary “Making a Murderer,” gave a lecture focused on the American criminal justice system.
Strang works with the Innocence Project, which works to exonerate wrongly convicted inmates. He said there are many causes of wrongful convictions, such as the lack of funding for defense counsel, racial disparities in incarceration rates, the length and severity of prison sentencing and the media’s portrayal of defendants in criminal cases.
Strang said though the Sixth Amendment in the Constitution dictates that all citizens must be provided with court representation, many states do not provide adequate funding for those who cannot afford defense lawyers. In the United States, 80 percent of defendants cannot afford their own legal counsel.
“The Sixth Amendment acts as an unfunded mandate … all states spend two to three times more on prosecution than they do on defense,” Strang said.
In Wisconsin, public defense lawyers are paid $40 an hour whereas even the most inexperienced lawyers in private firms can be paid $400 or more an hour, according to Strang.
“This leads us to ask the question: What kind of lawyer do you get for $40 an hour?” Strang said.
Strang said the diminished pay for defense lawyers coupled with the monetary caps for state defense create “little confidence [in the criminal justice system] when two contending sides are as badly mismatched as they are.”
Strang also touched on how racial disparities in America manifest in disproportionate incarceration rates.
“African-Americans are present in all phases of the criminal justice system at well more than double that of their population representation,” Strang said.
Strang said the public’s acceptance of unsupported media narratives regarding the presumed guilty status of defendants before trials are even held can further lead to wrongful convictions.
Though Strang admits the criminal justice system has its faults, he concluded on a hopeful note.
“We all long for justice … that’s human ... human beings are capable of progress, atonement improvement … that’s part of being human too,” Strang said.