During my career as a criminal defense attorney, I have represented hundreds of people who have been charged with serious offenses. From time to time either the nature of a particular case and/or its outcome will attract the attention of MahoningMatters and other media outlets. I know this will come as a shock, but I am always willing to answer questions from and provide comments to members of the Fourth Estate.
When I do and my mug ends up in the paper or on television I am invariably approached by folks who ask “How can you represent murderers, rapists, drug dealer, child molesters, (insert other type of crime) and look at yourself in the mirror. You should be ashamed.”
In most instances—most being when the person posing the question is not overly belligerent—I offer a multi-part response that is similar to the way I build a defense during a criminal trial.
First, I note that at the time I agree to represent a client they are innocent of all charges and will remain so unless and until a prosecutor convinces a jury or a judge that the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, our judicial system’s highest standard of proof. While the presumption of innocence is not specifically mentioned in the Constitution, it has been enshrined in American jurisprudence since 1895 when the Supreme Court majority in Coffin v. U.S. wrote:
“The principle that there is a presumption of innocence in favor of the accused is the undoubted law, axiomatic and elementary, and its enforcement lies at the foundation of the administration of our criminal law.”
I next point out that the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution guarantee that no one“shall be “deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law,” and that the Sixth establishes the right of anyone facing prosecution for a crime to obtain “ …the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.” That means I am upholding the Constitution, carrying out mandates established by the Founding Fathers, and protecting the rights of very American every time I represent a criminal defendant.
I then say that I have an ethical obligation to zealously represent my client, to demand that prosecutors abide by their responsibilities, including their duty to seek and secure justice, not just convictions, to ensure that the laws and rules of evidence have been applied correctly during each phase of a criminal proceeding, and to file appeals when and if errors occur that result in unjust or unwarranted convictions.
At this point I am ready to offer my summation: mounting the best possible defense on behalf of people accused of committing heinous acts strengthens and legitimatizes our judicial system.
That is something the United States and our allies understood when they conducted the Nuremberg Trials following World War II. They allowed Nazi defendants, many of whom were among the most detestable figures to ever darken the Earth, to retain highly competent counsel and raise whatever issues they chose during the proceedings. When the Tribunal concluded the World knew the process had been fair and the verdicts just.
The principle is no less important today. Our faith in the system is based on the belief that at the end of the day justice has been done. The fact that I play an integral role in bolstering that faith makes me proud to be an attorney—and makes it easy to face the mirror each morning before I head to court.