Its a question faced weekly by those who practice criminal defense: “How can you represent those people.” I italicized the word “those” because that is typically the way it is communicated to me. In their minds, the simple act of sitting at a table with “those” people is a reprehensible act–one to be devoutly avoided if I am to maintain some semblance of personal and professional self respect. They imply that such representation should make a person feel dirty or unethical.
I couldn’t disagree more.
Frankly, I find every act of representation to be an honor and privilege. Several reasons account for this.
First, the person I represent is placing me at the helm of what is likely the most important event of their adult lives. It is a process that (typically) impacts their freedom, their rights, and future opportunities. Imagine, this person chooses me to represent them at such a dire and important hour of their life. They assimilate me into their lives, share their innermost thoughts and feelings, introduce me to their family, and allow me to advocate for them and their interests. Many, but not all, of these people are servicemembers who have already made an incredible choice in their lives–to give a portion of their adulthood to serve the United States. For this, I am grateful, and it further enhances the respect I have for these individuals.
Second, almost all of my clients are good people who made a bad choice or found themselves in a bad situation. Some suffer from a mental ailment that prevented them from making a full, conscious choice. Many need help in coping with past events. Others made a bad choice, not because they are bad or evil, but because they acted impulsively, negligently, or (more likely) immaturely. They are hardly the monsters that Hollywood depicts in order to sell tickets and DVDs. In fact, they are more ordinary than most of us realize, and I refuse to be ashamed to sit at the same table with these human beings. The headlines you read only tell a fraction of a person’s story.
Third, I love the Constitution of the United States. I love the individual rights we have, and I enjoy our system of checks and balances. The fact that we have a justice system that allows for representation, the right to a fair trial, and the right to have the government prove our guilt is a victory for freedom every day it exists. While no system can ever be perfect, it is as fair as any system that can be conceived at this time.
Fourth, I believe in the importance of the defense bar. That is, I believe that a strong collective group of defense attorneys are essential to our society remaining free. It is no exaggeration to say that they constantly protect us from tyranny. Defense attorneys consistently hold law enforcement and other government entities responsible for their actions, and they ensure that the Constitution applies to anyone in jeopardy of losing their freedom. I am proud to serve alongside these men and women.
Finally, I shudder to think of an innocent person punished for a crime they did not commit. Deserving of strong, capable advocacy? You bet.