Using The Internet to Raise Legal Funds

During the course of research, it is not uncommon to uncover a sort of recurring pattern in different legal news stories. Usually, however, the pattern will involve a cluster of similar laws being considered or approved, or some other governmental actor. This time, I happened to come across a couple of unrelated stories dealing with defendants turning to the internet and social networks to fund their legal defenses.

Fraud concerns aside, this is certainly something that can change the course of an individual defendant's case, at least in theory. Laws do allow for indigent defendant's to have their defenses paid for by the state, but I hazard a guess that the most well known, and therefore arguably the "best," criminal defense attorneys may not accept payment at a lowered rate, absent an altruistic or other motive.

George Zimmerman Uses Paypal to Fund Defense

George Zimmerman, is now infamous for his confrontation with 17 year old Trayvon Martin, which resulted in the death of the teen under an unknown series of facts. Because of what transpired following the incident,  Zimmerman claims that he is now unable to find employment.

Forced with mounting legal costs, as a grand jury is scheduled to convene this week, Zimmerman created a website to collect funds from willing supporters, stating on his new website that, "any funds provided are used only for living expenses and legal defense, in lieu of my forced inability to maintain employment."

William Beavers Hosts Event to Raise Funds

Zimmerman isn't the only one looking outward to raise funds. Chicago's Cook County Commissioner William Beaver recently hosted an $125/person fundraising event in order to raise money to fund his legal defense.

He faces three counts of filing false federal income tax returns, and one count of corruptly endeavoring to obstruct and impede the Internal Revenue Service.

Beaver's indictment, which was recently unsealed in February, alleges that he used campaign funds and his county expense account for personal gain and did not report the money on his personal income taxes. It alleges that he wrote personal checks to himself from both of the sources, and did not account for these funds on his tax returns.

It seems as though these tactics give defendants the ability to capitalize on the people who know and like them, in order to ensure that they are receiving the best defense possible. After all, ours is a system where defendants must be proven guilty beyond any reasonable doubt in order to be convicted. It will be interesting to see if other defendants follow suit, particularly with Zimmerman's use of such incredibly accessible forum as PayPal.