Money determines how well wheels of justice function

Monday, February 25, 2019

You’ve probably seen the evening news/entertainment stories about overworked, underpaid public defenders, and how little time they have to spend on each case.

As a result, some defendants who are actually innocent plead guilty to crimes they didn’t commit for simple expediency.

We’ve often been amazed at the number of incompetent drug users convicted of “attempted possession” of controlled substances — obvious plea deals designed to clear the docket as painlessly as possible.

The proper administration of justice is a costly, hazardous process for small Nebraska counties, such as Gage County, which is seeking state help in paying off a $28 million federal judgment for the wrongful conviction of six people in a 1985 slaying.

The North Platte Bulletin passed along a KETV NewsWatch 7 report that illustrates just how things sometimes work.

Observers were puzzled by the case of Luke Lefever, who faced no charges after leading officers on a wild chase last June, shooting at Dawson County officers, stealing an all-terrain vehicle, then a pickup and trailer before heading west into Lincoln County, and through North Platte before finally being shot near Hershey.

Taken to a Lincoln hospital, one of his legs was amputated, but although he could have been charged with assaults on law officers, stealing vehicles, reckless driving, flight to avoid arrest and other crimes, he wasn’t, because the county would then have to pick up his medical bills.

Unfortunately, the state troopers who were guarding his room in Lincoln left their posts, and Lefer limped out of the hospital and disappeared.

He showed up again on New Year’s Eve in Howard County, where he got in two shootouts and was wounded again, slipping away to hide in a creek bed in the bitter cold.

Lefever was finally caught at 3 a.m. after an extensive search involving a helicopter and Light Armored Vehicle.

Back in the hospital, he was finally charged by the Howard County Attorney.

As a result, Howard County is footing the medical bills at the rate of $2,000 a day, but hopes they’ll peak at $200,000, or about 15 percent of the county’s entire budget.

Like many cases, the failure to prosecute Lefever to the fullest extent of the law turned out to be a false economy. Had he been convicted of the appropriate crimes last summer, his medical bills would actually have not only been lower, but they would also be born by the state, which will ultimately wind up with the bill, regardless.

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