As a criminal defense attorney, the question often comes up from friends, clients, and witnesses as to how I justify doing what I do. Sometimes the question is more blunt directed at my lack of conscience or morality, although not directly in those terms. The core question seems to be how I can defend someone knowing they are guilty.
There are several responses that I give when faced with this. First, the assumption that I know my clients are guilty isn’t necessarily accurate. Rarely do I ask clients “what did you do?” Why? It’s not the focus of the case. The burden is on the State to prove guilt, and my concern as a defense attorney is to analyze what evidence is in the State’s case. Instead I ask clients, “why are the police charging you with this?” In some cases, clients admit some wrong doing, but in many cases they maintain their innocence.
The second part of my response generally focuses on what I have learned as a criminal defense attorney. I have represented clients charged with just about every offense on the books. This experience has exposed me to the inner workings of the criminal justice system. And the criminal justice system is by no means perfect. The human factor can inject motives, intentions, and other things into a system that the law strives to make fair. Working to maintain the fairness and integrity of the system drives me to do what I do. Without a checking force against the State, the freedoms we all enjoy would be at risk. The system we have works and is constantly evolving, and I enjoy being a part of it.
Finally, I maintain my ethics to the practice of law and the respect for the profession when representing clients. An attorney’s integrity is important, and reputations make a difference when representing clients. I maintain positive working relationships with judges and prosecutors and work to make sure they know I am doing everything within the bounds of the law to represent my client. And contrary to what may be expected, judges and prosecutors actually appreciate the role of defense attorneys, and especially those skilled in making the system work smoothly.
In the end, the criminal justice system needs good, knowledgeable criminal defense attorneys. They protect our system and help it evolve to better serve the needs and issues of the future by protecting important freedoms we enjoy daily.