Many people don’t realize that criminal defense lawyers aren’t just there to get innocent (or guilty) people out of trouble. Some people even wonder whether being a criminal defense lawyer is a strictly ethical profession. Why should we protect wrongdoers?
You’ll have heard of cases that have been thrown out of court because of technicalities, and you may find yourself thinking that isn’t fair. But criminal defense lawyers are there to protect everybody’s rights, not only the rights of the accused.
Why Technicalities Are So Important
Let’s begin with a controversial subject. If law enforcement officers failed to follow correct procedures, their evidence cannot be accepted in court. This can lead to a criminal case being thrown out of court with no consequences for the accused, even though guilt or innocence haven’t been established. Why is this a good thing?
When proper processes aren’t followed in the lead-up to criminal charges being laid, our client’s rights have been violated. Your rights are also at risk. Our system of legal procedures applies to everyone; if we allow those protections to slip in some cases, soon they will stop applying for everyone. By ensuring that the rules are followed in every case, we ensure that everyone’s rights are protected all the time. If we stop protecting our rights, we run the risk of losing them altogether.
In addition, there’s something very fishy about charges that result from illegal or sloppy dealings on the part of law enforcement agencies. If they had a good case, why should they need to shortcut or subvert accepted procedure?
Innocent People Get Convicted of Crimes More Often Than You Might Believe
You will probably have read the news stories about people who have been convicted of rape or murder being cleared of crimes owing to the new focus on DNA evidence. Some of these people have been serving jail sentences for decades, but when the DNA evidence is taken into account, it becomes clear that they never committed the crimes they were incarcerated for. All the same, at the time they were convicted, courts believed that there was sufficient evidence to show that they were guilty.
At the same time, there are often people being arrested for committing terrible crimes. Inevitably somebody says that they don’t deserve a trial because it is obvious that they are guilty. These are the most dangerous cases for society. Consider that what is reported in the newspaper or online is probably far from the whole story, may not be accurate, or may be taken out of context. Further, consider that the cases where everyone assumes that the defendant is “obviously” guilty are the very cases where the proper rules might not be followed in the rush to convict.
Lives can be ruined by a wrong court finding, and innocent people can end up in jail for serious crimes. It happens more often than you might think. Who can prevent these miscarriages of justice? Only a good criminal defense lawyer can. It’s a big responsibility.
Circumstances Must be Taken Into Account
Sometimes, there are circumstances that cause ordinary people to make a wrong judgement call or react out of desperation or anger. For example, you will have heard stories of abused wives suddenly turning on their spouses after tolerating years of physical and mental cruelty. No, it’s never “right” to take the law into your own hands, but people in desperate situations sometimes do.
Sometimes, unpleasant accidents happen. The person who is responsible may have been negligent, but they never intended the dire consequences that followed. They will live with the event on their consciences for the rest of their lives.
If we just look at consequences without looking at causes, it would be unjust. Many people, filled with remorse and acknowledging their guilt, won’t raise the mitigating circumstances surrounding the incident. Even if you are willing to acknowledge guilt, you should get representation.
Penalties Should Fit the Crime
If you are fond of history, you’ll know that extremely harsh penalties were once meted out for minor crimes. People would be thrown into prison because they were in debt, or they’d be deported to penal colonies for life for stealing a loaf of bread. As a member of a modern society, you would see these penalties as being barbaric and pointless. But even as recently as the late 1970’s our state continued to allow capital punishment for crimes other than murder. There is no benefit to society when overly harsh penalties are prescribed.
The same remains true today. For example, there is a move towards rehabilitating non-violent offenders who are drug addicts instead of sending them to jail (where they will probably continue to use drugs). This approach is good for society as a whole:
- The defendant has an opportunity to be rehabilitated and become a valued member of society again.
- The person is not exposed to influences in an environment which some have described as a “college for crime”.
- Taxpayers’ money is saved. It’s cheaper to provide supervision and regular drug testing than it is to incarcerate people.
A criminal defense lawyer protects his or her clients against overly harsh penalties that could destroy their lives.
Would There be Real Justice Without Criminal Defense Lawyers?
The legal system itself acknowledges that without criminal defense lawyers to support defendants, justice may not be done. That’s why you have the right to a lawyer, even if you can’t afford to pay one. Courts strive to see that justice is served by including three parties in each criminal case:
- The prosecutor who argues the case against you.
- The criminal defense lawyer who represents your interests.
- The judge and jury who must weigh both arguments impartially in the light of legal precedent.
The prosecutor serves as the “attacker”, the defense lawyer, whose job is not to judge but to defend within the framework of the law, and the judge and jury whose task it is to listen to both sides of the argument and decide on a fair and just verdict.
A lawyer has an ethical obligation to be a “zealous advocate” for his or her client. This means representing their best interests to the fullest of their legal ability. Many times a defense lawyer may not condone the actions of their client, or may even agree that they were wrong and deserve punishment. But it is not that lawyer’s job to be a judge. It is their job to defend their client, to make sure the law is followed and to defend them to the full extent allowed by the law. If the system works properly and everyone does their job, then justice will be served, guilty individuals will receive a just and proper punishment that fits their crime and circumstances, and everyone can be satisfied that the innocent have not been convicted. If a defense lawyer isn’t willing to defend you with their best efforts, he or she should not take your case, and it’s possible that he or she should not be a criminal defense lawyer at all.
No Matter Who You Are or What You Did or Didn’t Do Your Rights Must be Protected
Many ordinary people wonder how a criminal defense lawyer can be willing to defend someone against whom there is strong evidence of criminal misconduct. The fact remains that every single person in this country has the same rights, and those rights must be protected, because if they aren’t, everybody in society becomes vulnerable.
At Welch and Avery we feel strongly that our justice system is the greatest in the world. We take our role seriously to make sure that our clients are protected and that each of them knows they have gotten the best defense possible, no matter their circumstance.
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