There are two questions a criminal defense attorney’s friends and family ask with great frequency. The first is, “would you defend a person you know is guilty?” The second is, “how do you defend those people?” My first answer to the first question was “umm… Grandma… most of them are guilty.” (Note: most, but not all!) My answer to the second always ends up being some disjointed, unorganized ramble about protecting the Constitution and Bill of Rights and reasonable doubt and the importance of making sure we don’t convict the innocent. Splash in a little prattling about how even the guilty have rights and how the State needs to be kept in check and prevented from overreaching or over-punishing and I’ve served up a lovely mishmash of incoherent thoughts.
Luckily for me, there are lawyers out there who are well-spoken, clear in thought and able to put words on a page in a way that explains difficult concepts. I’ve found a couple who have answered these questions in a way far superior to anything I’d have come up with, so I figured I would just pass their thoughts along.
So: how do I defend those people? I’ll let a New York attorney named Don Murray answer that for me. I’ve never met the man, but his essay “Why I am proud to be a criminal defense lawyer” has been making the rounds of some local listserves.
Would I defend a person I know is guilty? Yes. Absolutely. For this one, I’ll turn to “The Ethics of Justice,” an essay from a website called “The Ethics Scoreboard.” The writer jumps from Ben Franklin to O.J., with a nice little bonus Bill O’Reilly rebuttal along the way.