District Attorney’s column: The Cost of Justice


By District Attorney Marie Broder

As we are one month into the New Year, our office is off to the races with trying cases. I will continue to keep you informed about those as the year goes on. In the meantime, I have had to devote some attention to a less exciting subject for a trial lawyer — budgeting and finance.

There is an ugly truth of the criminal justice system — money. This practical reality deeply affects both sides of the law.

Imagine you are charged with a crime — great or small. What is the first thing you do? Ask two questions: first, do I need a lawyer? And, second, can I afford one? If you ran a stop sign, you may just need to pay the fee and move on. But if you are charged with a crime that runs a real risk of imprisonment, or a crime that might cost you your job, hiring a lawyer might make sense.

When your liberty is at stake, no one bats an eye at the need to hire someone to look out for your interests and try to get your charges reduced or dismissed. For good reasons, this representation does not come cheap because experience, attention to detail, and credibility with judges and prosecutors is hard earned by lawyers who require a fee.

That said, a paid attorney is not an option for most people. The vast majority of our felony cases are defended by public defenders. Our circuit is blessed to have excellent private attorneys and excellent public defenders who fight hard for their clients and bring about much better results than if a person tried to represent themselves. My chief assistant was once a public defender and his understanding of the challenges and pressures of the job are invaluable to our office.

Defending people accused of crimes, whether public or private, costs money. Many of you will be surprised to learn that the Public Defender’s Office receives more State funding than the District Attorney’s Office. I don’t begrudge them for it, but most people don’t know it.

Now, imagine you or a family member is a victim of a crime. What would you pay to have the best of the best prosecute the case and do everything they could to get maximum punishment against the thief, rapist, or murderer? Everything you had?

Our system, rightly I believe, doesn’t leave fierce prosecution to those with the most money. Instead, whether you are dirt poor or a millionaire, our office is charged to do what’s right and fight for justice. And we do it everyday. I have fought for victims who are minors, disabled, or who live in million dollar homes. In my offices, Justice does not require a credit check.

But we can’t do it for free. Instead, your tax dollars pay for that time and expertise. Those tax dollars come from the federal, state, and local level. The federal government sometimes provides grants to fund certain positions — i.e., victim advocates, prosecutors who specialize in crimes against women and children.

State Government provides significant funding to each office, particularly to the salaries of some, but not all, assistant district attorneys.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the county governments of Fayette, Spalding, Pike, and Upson provide significant support to fully staff our offices to ensure that we can do our work with quality personnel. Without the support of your local government, you would see the results in your community almost instantly.

I always say that people spend more time talking about what happens in Washington, D.C., while the most important decisions that affect your daily life are local. I appreciate the opportunity to work with local government to serve each and every one of you.

[Marie Broder has served as the Griffin Judicial Circuit district attorney since 2020. She prosecutes criminal cases in Fayette, Spalding, Pike and Upson counties and resides in Griffin.]