Defending Guilty People
Another question I, and I am sure every criminal defense lawyer, am asked is how I can defend people who I know are guilty. I think I speak for all defense lawyers when I say that first it is standing up for the “little guy” against a massive prosecution machine, and second it is helping someone at a time that they need help the most.
The government, whether it be State or Federal, is well equipped to investigate and prosecute people. They have unlimited resources in time, equipment, and investigators. Many times, a person gets arrested after this massive investigative and prosecutorial machine has already done most of its work. Other times, a person is arrested then the machine spends its resources justifying the arrest and prosecution. No one, except the very rich, has resources to match the government’s effort to put them in prison. So what is a person to do? Most others would say he should just roll over and take what’s coming. That, though, is not part of our adversarial justice system and would ultimately lead to a government running roughshod over the rights we fought to guarantee.
The answer is for a defense lawyer to represent the accused. Someone to stand up and say “hold on, if you’re going to try to put my client in a cage, you’re going to do it by your laws and your rules,” (the government does, after all, pick its own playing field). Also, someone needs to question whether the zealots that are police and prosecutors are being truthful. It is sad, but we too often find them fudging the truth, or even outright lying, in their crusade to rid the world of “evil.” The defendant does not have the knowledge, training, or often the freedom to do this. It is his lawyer, most of the time a lone wolf, who protects his rights.
The other reason to defend those who a lawyer knows to be guilty is that the lawyer is a professional, and with that comes helping people when the help is needed most. When people suggest I should not defend someone who has committed a crime, I ask if a doctor should treat a person who has lung cancer after a lifetime of smoking. Their answer is always “yes, the person is sick, that’s what a doctor does.” Exactly. Doctors do not make moral judgments about how their patients came to need their help. Accountants do not make moral judgments trying to extricate people from self-created tax problems. Priests don’t judge those with moral issues. If they did, there wouldn’t be much work to do—for the doctor, the accountant, or the priest.
I don’t make moral judgments either. Many of my clients, maybe most of them, I wouldn’t mind being neighbors with. They are good people who did something momentarily dumb. Some I don’t want to know where I live or anything else about me. But that does not make a difference in how I, or any good defense lawyer should, defend them.
We all do stupid things; some deliberately and some in a weak moment. But just like needing a doctor, accountant, or priest, we sometimes need a lawyer, one who does not judge, to stand up and make an argument.