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What Would People Think?

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

How Can They Live With Themselves? Here's How.

I could talk about Carhart II, the abortion case, but I'm not in the mood to piss off 90% of my readers by stating my well-known opinion. At least, not tonight.

I could talk about Virginia Tech, but Christy and I have been discussing writing a joint blog post...so I hope we can do that later.

No, today I want to talk about the Duke Lacrosse players who, it turns out, were falsely accused of rape. I've been shying away from the topic since Day 1. But spectacle of the state attorney general affirming their innocence - not just saying there wasn't enough proof, but actually affirming their innocence - is enough to make this would-be criminal defense lawyer proud.

It was the lawyers who scrutinized the evidence...who exposed unethical DA Mike Nifong's corruption and blatant interference with the evidence....and who finally cleared their names. I especially liked this point made in the Wall Street Journal:

Our criminal justice system does not rely solely on the fairness of the police and prosecutors to get things right. In every criminal case, there is a professional whose only obligation is to scrutinize what the police and prosecutor have done. This "professional" is a lawyer. The next time you hear a lawyer joke, maybe you'll think of the lawyers who represented these three boys and it won't seem so funny. You probably can't picture their faces and don't know their names. (They include Joe Cheshire, Jim Cooney, Michael Cornacchia, Bill Cotter, Wade Smith and the late Kirk Osborn.) That's because they put their zealous representation of their clients ahead of their own egos and fame. Without their lawyering skills, we would not today be speaking so confidently of their clients' innocence.

These lawyers held the prosecutor's feet to the fire. Their skillful questioning at pre-trial hearings revealed the prosecutor's misconduct that eventually forced him to give up control of the case and now threatens his law license. They uncovered compelling exculpatory evidence and made it available to the press; they let their clients and their families air their story in the national media.


Do you suppose that lawyers like these gained their skills only representing the innocent? Criminal lawyers are constantly asked how they can live with themselves defending those guilty of serious crimes. The full and complete answer ought to be that, because we can never be sure who is guilty and who is innocent until the evidence is scrutinized, the only way to protect the innocent is by effectively defending everyone.

The "how could you live with yourself" question is one I often received when I mentioned my interest in becoming a criminal defense lawyer (not knowing at the time I was going to end up a labor lawyer). This question came from people I knew and respected - like Chris Raab, husband of fellow blogger Monica Raab. It was sometimes hard to articulate an answer to "how could you defend rapists and murderers?" Well, now I have my answer. Just read this blog post and look at the Duke Lacrosse case, and you'll know why criminal defense is a worthy profession.


  • Very well said. I like to add something in there as well.

    Have you ever felt like it was you against the world? For my clients, it's really like that. The state's attorneys, public opinion, cops, victims, victim advocates, the media. I'm the only one they have to stand up for them, to see the person that they are, even when that person made a horrible mistake.

    Most of the time, if they're guilty, it'll out. But in a rush for blood, it is important to have someone to stand with the defendant, to make sure the corners aren't cut, the rights aren't brushed over, the facts aren't fudged. Which is why I really feel very good about what I do.

    If your road takes you back to defense, just remember that it can have its good points.

    By Blogger Amy, at 4/18/2007 10:19 PM  

  • Personally, I hate working on cases, when I know that the client is guilty--and by that, I mean that I would vote with a jury or a judge against the client.

    For me, the answer is in reminding myself that I don't work in the "truth" business. There is no truth, outside of Jesus Christ, nor is there any justice, that is not divine. Nothing that I do, in securing a favorable outcome for a client, in a court, matters at all, compared to the judgment of God, and the client's preparation for it.

    What we have done, as a society, is invest in the legal system expectations that are best maintained as matters of faith in God. As we have become a more secular society, our faith in secular institutions, such as our government and the courts, has become a poor substitute for faith in God, and work done in His name, in church.

    So, I am in the "fact" business. The facts either support the allegations, or they don't. My job is to make certain that the facts, as alleged, are subjected to suitable scrutiny to justify their use in determining a violation of the law. My faith is in God, and I pray that He guides my work, and I leave matters of justice, innocense, and guilt, in His hands.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4/19/2007 12:03 PM  

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