Tuesday, April 28, 2009

How Can We Do It?

For a criminal defense attorney, the most asked question in your life is usually some variant of "how can you represent those people?" Depending on the circumstance, "those people" might be several things other than guilty. The Telegram from Worcester, Massachusetts (outside Boston) asked that question and got answers from several local defense folks.

Most of them riff on a variation of the "we do it for the system/Constitution/your rights" theme. While that is important, I don't think it is the only thing that explains our situation. For me, at least, it's equally important that we are the one person (or two people, in some instances) that stand between the overwhelming weight of the prosecution and the defendant. Even if they're guilty as sin - and usually they are - there's a lot of work to be done making sure their guilt isn't an excuse just to treat them like a piece of meat and lock them away forever.

"Guilty of a crime" does not necessarily equal "evil and dangerous." People convicted of crimes are sons, fathers, brothers, daughters, and mothers. They are human beings, perhaps desperately in need of help. They are not merely cogs in the system. Sometimes, their lawyer is the only person in the process to treat them like people, instead of cattle.

Unfortunately, I don't expect most people to grasp that idea (see the comments to the article). Until they find themselves on the wrong side of the "v." in a criminal complaint. Then they'll find out what it means to have someone else step up for them.

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