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Freedom vs. Safety vs. Charity

Malum in Se asked, Is an ADA Really Worth More than an APD? This had me thinking about what relative prosecutor and PD salaries say about society’s priorities.

I wrote here about the relative salaries of ADAs and private defense lawyers reflecting the greater value we place on freedom than on safety. I think that the disparity that Malum complains of also reflects the value society places on the two jobs.

But how can that be? Doesn’t the fact that public defenders make less than prosecutors disprove the theory that private defenders make more than prosecutors because society values freedom over safety? After all, public defenders, like their private counterparts, are fighting for freedom rather than safety; if the public valued freedom more than safety, wouldn’t APDs be paid more than ADAs?

No. The threat to freedom against which public defenders guard is, to most people, abstract and theoretical at best. Only tiny portion of the voting public (and an even smaller portion of the campaign-contributing public) will ever need a public defender. Even if they can imagine being charged with a crime (who, other than us defenders, can imagine that? lucky us!) they don’t see themselves relying on a publicly-funded lawyer for a defense.

So when people think about funding public defenders, they aren’t thinking “freedom” (as they are when they fund private lawyers) but “charity.” Just as society values freedom over safety, it values safety over charity. And that’s why APDs are paid less than ADAs.



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