Why you do what you do?
Often I get asked how I can defend people accused of heinous crimes, or even small crimes. How can you defend criminals? How can you defend the guilty (as if everyone trapped in our justice system is guilty)? Normally this question comes from somebody looking down their nose and implying that it is morally questionable or ethically borderline to defend honest citizens accused of crime, whether they did it or not.
I do what I do not only because I love it, but because I am needed badly. Criminal defense lawyers and honest jurors and judges are the main obstacles to politically motivated laws and pressures to put you in jail if doing so is beneficial to those wearing the badge or controlling the government (or to run up a $10,000 bill against you for allegedly driving “intoxicated”). Court systems in America designed to “do justice” can easily evolve (or de-volve) into systems to protect those in power and maintain the status quo. There are plenty of ethical prosecutors and police officers out there, and this article isn’t a stab at them, but the political and professional system in which they must serve brings tremendous pressures on them to arrest and convict you.
If you think our criminal justice system as a whole is about “presumption of innocence” and “burden of proof,” you are sadly mistaken. Every week innocent individuals are herded like cattle into our courtrooms across our land like cattle and pressured into pleading guilty (often without a lawyer) to crimes they have no business pleading guilty to. Every week or month it seems that someone is freed from prison on DNA evidence proving their innocence of the crimes they were convicted of or to which they pled guilty.
People are wrongly convicted of crimes for many reasons. Sometimes the jury doesn’t do its job and require evidentiary proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Sometimes the lawyer doesn’t do his job defending the citizen accused. Many people plead guilty to crimes they did not commit to avoid being tried and possibly convicted of a bigger crime they did not commit, or facing a harsher though unjust punishment than what they receive in a plea bargain. People are often given the wrong advice by their lawyer or are just too scared or too poor to fight back. Some states don’t even allow jury trials for many harsh or embarrassing misdemeanor charges, and no state is required to have a grand jury indictment, even on felony accusations, according to our Supreme Court (thankfully we do under the Texas Constitution).
In the middle of this sea of injustice is the lonely, scared, powerless citizen branded “defendant” by the system. The citizen has been accused of a crime he hasn’t committed and knows nothing about crime or law or justice or defending himself. In our society, an accusation goes a long way. In people’s heart of hearts a person is guilty until proven innocent once a nasty (although false) allegation is made. Back that false accusation up with an officer with a badge and a gun, and we may have a conviction.
When a true criminal trial lawyer steps in, you can hear the wheels of injustice come to a screeching halt. The powerless citizen trapped in a game of accusation and conviction finally has a voice. The accused has someone trained to reason with jurors inflamed by accusations and arguments. Someone now will stand between him and months or years or a lifetime in a small steel cage at the taxpayer’s expense.
If you are accused of a crime, exercise your right to an attorney. Criminal defense attorneys are the only private profession mentioned in the Constitution of the United States for a reason. You deserve a fair fight, a fair trial, and your true shot at justice. There plenty of lawyers in your community who are proud to try criminal cases on a regular basis, which fight back and regularly win trials for those falsely or improperly accused of a crime. Call around town and ask around town about who is in the courthouse fighting and winning. Do not plead guilty simply because you are scared or don’t have the money to hire an attorney. Ask the court for an attorney if you cannot hire one. When the government comes after you, you can’t make it without one.