The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Editorials

August 3, 2010

Paying the cost of due process

Taxpayers will foot bill for trial, jail time

— When a crime is committed, there is an emotional toll for the victims and their families – and usually for the families of the accused.

So it has been with the shooting death of Alfred Pelham Jr.

Brothers TaeVon and  Jharon Dixon are charged with murder. TaeVon Dixon is accused of pulling the trigger, while Jharon Dixon is accused of participating in the beating of Pelham before he was shot on July 11 in the Old Conemaugh Borough section of Johnstown.

Pelham’s family members are feeling the loss of their loved one and the anger over his senseless killing. And the Dixon brothers’ family members are suffering from shock and embarrassment following the shooting and subsequent arrests.

But all Cambria taxpayers will also be paying a price for this crime – even the thousands who are not in any way involved.

Four attorneys have been appointed to represent the Dixon brothers, thanks to a conflict of interest in the public defender’s office. A member of that office already represents a potential witness in the case.

And the Dixon brothers – as are all defendants in any proceeding in this country – are guaranteed legal representation through the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

The amendment guarantees a “speedy and public trial” for those accused of crimes, that those accused will be informed of all charges against them, and that they will have the “assistance of counsel” for their defense.

The county court administrator estimated that each attorney would be paid $7,000 to $10,000 to represent either TaeVon or Jharon Dixon, depending on whether this becomes a death-penalty case. So that’s as much as $40,000 in county taxpayer money.

In addition, the brothers were caught in another county, along with two alleged accomplices who, police say, were attempting to help them escape.

Whatever it costs to house those accused in another county will also be billed to Cambria taxpayers, as will costs to transport the Dixon brothers back here and then house them through their trial.

If they are found guilty, the cost to house them would be shared by all taxpayers across the state.

We certainly support the Sixth Amendment and the protection of the rights of those accused of crimes. In all cases, individuals are innocent until proven guilty – or at least found guilty by a jury of their peers.

And there are circumstances where a “victimless crime” – by legal definition – can occur, meaning a crime that does not endanger or encroach on the rights of another person.

But as you can see, there really is no such thing as a victimless crime.

The taxpayers pay for the legal process one way or another – even when an accused individual is found to be not guilty.

So, as this murder proceeding plays out in Cambria County Court, we can all watch our tax dollars at work.

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