You might say they represent the worst of the worst in our society – the rapists and murderers and child abusers. They stand up for these people and protect their rights. Many of us are quick to judge these attorneys because of the people they help and the way they’ve chosen to spend their careers. The criminal defense lawyers I know get asked by friends, family members and even random people how they can do that kind of work and how they sleep at night.
A typical response is that everyone has rights and if you are being prosecuted and your freedom is at stake, you have the right to an attorney. Someone has to do it. Someone has to stand up to the state and make sure they’re following the law, too. If defense attorneys didn’t do their job, then the state could convict people without sufficient proof. After all, there’s the presumption of innocence. It’s they way our system works.
Not all defense attorneys are fighting for a cause, however. Some – and this is probably true for many lawyers – get stuck in an area of law because it’s what they went into after graduation. It can be hard to switch practice areas. And for others, it’s simply job. It pays the bills, and there’s no higher purpose behind what they do, at least not more so than any of the rest of us.
Whatever their reason for choosing criminal defense, I don’t judge these lawyers, and it’s not because I know a few of them and they’re good people. It’s because if I ever find myself in need of their services, I’m going to be very glad they’re there, doing what they do day after day.
The reality is that someday you or someone close to you might need a criminal defense attorney. Maybe your son or daughter will make a bad choice and get caught with an illegal substance. Maybe your cousin makes a mistake and chooses to drive home when he shouldn’t. Maybe someone in your family gets caught up in something even worse. They don’t just represent the “worst of the worst.” They represent good people who have done bad things. Real people with friends and families. People who find themselves in the criminal justice system and need help.
I admit that my perspective on this is somewhat hypothetical. I have not been the victim of a horrendous crime, nor has anyone in my family. I could see how that would change my perspective. But the idea of someone getting arrested, charged and prosecuted, which is all up to the police and district attorney, and not having anyone on their side to level the playing field, is a scary thought.
I guess what I’m saying is that we can’t lump the defense attorneys together with the criminals. While they may be on the same side in the courtroom, they’re there for completely different reasons.
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