Time To Share (Again)

I thought that last week's thought-(and comment- )provoking question was a hit.

I thought I'd follow it up with another one this week. I thought maybe I could make it a weekly Tuesday thing. But before I knew it, Tuesday had come and gone. Oops.

So, maybe it'll become a Wednesday thing now. You know, sort of like "Just Because" over at Will Work for Favorable Dicta.

And conveniently enough, Lewis at From Across the Pond has a question for all of us criminal defense lawyers. He asks, "Why is defending the (probably) guilty important to you?"

Personally, I've got a million reasons. The biggest one, for me, is because no one else is. I mean, there's an entire police force, an entire prosecutor's office, court staff, and everyone in the court process all out to put my client away (and don't give me this "But I thought judges were out for justice...") and it's just me and my client (an accused criminal) going to toe to toe with them. It's the ultimate underdog experience. I find it to be constantly thrilling, challenging and fun.

But it's also because I often relate to my clients. Who's never been accused of something they didn't do? And I'm not just talking about crimes, I'm talking about any accusation. It sucks. And I relate to my clients when they do fuck up and do something wrong. I mean, who doesn't screw up once in a while? Some of my clients are great people. Some aren't. Most don't deserve prison (have you ever been inside a prison?). But for the most part, they're a likeable group of people. They're lost in a confusing system.

And because I like helping people. I like giving people correct directions on the street in the same way I like guiding my clients through the maze that is the criminal justice system. I love when my clients call me or send me a note just to say "Thanks for your help."

Did I mention that winning feels great? It gets balanced out with losing, but for however short it lasts, winning, whether you've won on a bail application or a trial, feels great. And I'm a little competitive, so the winning is definitely part of it for me.

And, compared to other jobs (especially other jobs in the legal profession), I find that it's more interesting than most. Seriously, you can't make this stuff up. And I get to be right there in it, finding out what's going on, uncovering the story that no one wants you to hear.

I remember, when I was in college, being worried that I'd never find a job that I would love. I looked at my parents, who are ok with what they do, but they don't love it, and I just thought "Man, how can you just pick some mediocre job and just do it for the rest of your life -we're talking decades- just to pay your bills?" What a depressing thought. My job is tough at times (a lot of times), but I like to think that when I wake up in the morning I'm excited to go to work. And that's priceless.

So, that's why I do it. Because I love it. It's not entirely selfless.

Anyone else want to throw in their reasons? It's time to share (again).

p.s. I'll try to stay more on the ball with future questions. If you've got an idea for a future topic, you can email me.


  1. You know, I have been working on a post about that for months and I cannot get it to come out right.

    I'll try to get it on my blog this weekend.

  2. Years ago I read a book by a PD who described one of his murder trials. (Might have been James Kunen's "How Can You Defend Those People.") I can't remember the details, but he was pretty sure his client was guilty. However, the prosecutor's case was heavily circumstantial, and the verdict came back "not guilty." He realized, shockingly, that he and his client had Gotten Away With Murder...and that it was kind of thrilling.

    I am not a lawyer (nor a criminal), but I can understand that. How about it, oh Blonde One? Any vicarious thrills to working for the Dark Side?

  3. I always get hypertechnical with terms like guilt and innocence. The term "guilty" is different from "he really did it." People in America cannot be punished because they "really did it"; they can only be punished if their guilt is proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

    Every time I stand up and hold the prosecution to its constitutional burden, I'm representing the People. I'm making sure that all of us are protected so long as I refuse to let my own personal opinions about "did he really do it?" interfere with my job.

  4. I don't think of it as my client "getting away with it," I think of my job as not letting the DA "get away with it." It being putting on a weak case. They have all of the resources, and if they can't put on a case that can convince 12 people beyond a reasonable doubt, they shouldn't get away with convicting my client.

    I've never thought that my clients have gotten away with anything.

  5. Oooh, I love questions like that. I think all's been said already. But I'd just like to throw in something that always weighs heavily on my mind. Frequently, working for people who can't afford "real" attorneys means working for people who have been failed by, marginalized by, and ostracized by the very same society/system/community that then seeks to hold them accountable by the very rules of the game that these clients were never allowed to play in the first place.

  6. I think a lot of it goes back to the quote that used to be on CrimLaw's page--if you don't defend the (probably) guilty then what tools will there be to defendant the (probably) not guilty? That, and people make mistakes, as True Believer and Skelly have often noted, and they need help explaining that to judges and prosecutors. Finally, if there is a conviction, it makes that conviction more just.

  7. The problem with your thinking is that you never live next door to the murderers who get away with it. Attorneys live in nice homes, in gated housing, nice areas.

    The poor that you care so much about have to live with the murderer that you just got off on a technicality. Or you lied to get him off.

    They live next door to the murderer, the sociopath, they psycho. It's extremely rare for the elite such as yourself to ever live next door to the people that do the most damage.

    It's all fun and games and chess in court, but at the end of the day, when your client kills the granny next door, or the single mother who has 5 kids, you need to think that it was you who let him go free.

    I know it's very very hard to have a conscience when you're making the kind of dough you make, but you are letting criminals back out into the communities to murder more.

    The very people that should be protected get even less protection when you defend the violence of a criminal.

  8. To the anonymous commenter who comes here 7 months after the discussion and may never even find his way back here to read my response...

    Your wrong. You have no idea what you're talking about. One, I've never lied to anyone about anything to get anyone off. If the prosecutor you elected didn't have his staff do their job and prove it, you can take that up with them.

    Two, murderers live in all sorts of neighborhoods. You'd be surprised.

    And, finally, you have no idea where I live. I live 2 blocks away from the projects. And so do many public defenders. So get over yourself.