In Defense of the Criminal Defense Attorney
I am not ashamed to admit that in my down time, I sometimes enjoy watching, “The Family Feud.” Steve Harvey has the presence and charisma that would make any criminal defense attorney proud.
For those of you who know the show, members of the community are polled for their answers to a straightforward question. Recently, the results to two questions greatly surprised me and troubled me.
Question number one was: What career do you most admire? Only three in one hundred of the respondents replied, “attorney.” I bet most have forgotten that one of the most admired individuals in history, Abraham Lincoln, was a criminal defense attorney before President.
Even more disturbing was a second question that was asked of viewers: What profession’s members would be least likely to get into heaven? Lawyer was the number one choice followed by prostitutes, professional thieves, drug dealers, and hit-men.
These results are clearly not scientific, but still indicative of the public’s poor perception toward the legal profession. How did my profession become so tainted? Why is it that many individuals trust used car salesmen and telemarketers more than lawyers?
I think that most of this started when it became so common for lawyers, including even one of our illustrious ex-presidents, to lie, even when under oath. On the basis of a few television shows and high profile lawyers who have gotten caught playing fast with the truth, many members of the publicnow believe that criminal defense attorneys routinely go in front of juries and lie. The reality is that most of the good ones don’t.
As a criminal defense attorney, I am a mouthpiece for my client. I help a less-educated client present a defense in the best possible light. The idea is that the government has many clever prosecutors that can take any action by an accused and put a spin on it. Take a border drug case, for instance. At trial, I almost always hear the border patrol agent paint the conduct of the client in a nefarious light: “the defendant stared straight ahead,” or “the defendant appeared nervous.”
It is my job to tell the jury that many of us stare straight ahead when we are waiting on further instructions from a law enforcement agent, and even the innocent are frequently nervous when they are detained by armed police officials.
My job is not only to help innocent clients tell their story but also to bring out important facts that the prosecutor won’t to achieve a fair sentence. I hade a elderly female client attempt to smuggle kilo of methamphetamine across the border in a body girdle. Big mistake. But after I told the judge her story, she received an eighteen month sentence in federal court instead of the normal ten years. Her grandson was on his death bed because hee desperately needed heart surgery. I presented the proof to the judge. I am a presenter of the facts and an advocate, not a liar.
As defense attorneys, we are kind of like cancer doctors (oncologists). You may not need us, and if you do, you probably won’t contact us under the most pleasant of circumstances. But I guarantee you that you will be glad we are there. We are the only individuals on your side if you or a loved one is accused of the crime. The police are investigators of the prosecution, the prosecutor wants to prosecute you, and the judge is supposed to be a neutral referee. In short, we are all you have got.
So, if you are ever polled by the Family Feud, please say that you admire us or at least say that we should not be stopped at the Pearly Gates. I am proud of what I do and you probably would be too if you understood what I do better.