Most criminal lawyers get asked that last question all the time, so I figured it was an easy one, but Rob took issue with my first question:
I can’t help anyone “get away with murder.” No lawyer can, unless they actually break the law. No, what I do is I defend your rights, and I make sure that the other side doesn’t cheat. That’s not the same as helping you get away with murder.
It is to me, if I’m a murderer.
I don’t think Rob means what he wrote (at least not the way I’m taking it) especially that part about having to break the law to help a client get away with a crime. Or else criminal defense lawyers don’t do what I’ve always thought they do, because I’m pretty sure that if I’m charged with a crime, it’s my lawyer’s job to try to stop the state from convicting me even if I did it.
Pretty much every defense attorney has been asked that question and most of us have fine-tuned our stock responses. They’re variations of the same “I’m defending the Constitution, asshole” meme. But is that what it really is? Losses sting in our business. We see clients sent to jail for decades and we never forget those cases. So wins do mean something. Is “I’m defending the Constitution” merely the sugar-coating on “helping them get away with it”?
We fight. We fight tooth and nail. Not because we absolutely believe that our client is innocent – in fact, most of the time we don’t care whether the client is guilty or not.
We use phrases like “make the State prove its case” and “the burden of proof is on them and if we don’t make them meet it, the slope will start slipping”.
So for a while there, I was almost convinced that yes, we do help them “get away with it”. But then I remembered that 96% of cases don’t go to trial. The ones that do have serious questions about the guilt of the defendant. It is in those cases that the cliches apply. In the rest of the cases, we plea bargain. And that’s where we don’t “help them get away with it”, but we help them put their best foot forward by acting as their representative in a world that sees them as the same as the next guy and another statistic to sentence and forget.
Every case is different and every defendant is different. What might be a just sentence for one is not for another. That’s our job. To help our clients gain a foothold in a world that has long since abandoned them and forgotten them. A world that tries so hard to homogenize them. A world that wants to paint them with the same broad brush-strokes. It is us, the criminal defense lawyers, that stand up to the world and say: “This is a man, with his own life, his own experiences and his own achievements”. He is not the same as the next man, just as the next man is not the same as him.
So, for the most part, our job is not helping them “get away with it”, but rather reminding the rest of the world that they are not cattle. We fight for that which is right and appropriate. We fight against indiscrimination and prejudice and stereotypes. In that sense, we fight for us all, because we are all unique and special in our own ways. We don’t forget that and neither should you.