I don't think any of the lawyers who've weighed in here would willingly do less than what they can to get the client off. All seem committed to actually doing the work of criminal defense when called upon. Good. That gets halfway to the point I'm making. (I'm speaking only for me. Others can and do speak for themselves, and while I have some idea of those with whom I share a general agreement about things, probably none of us view things identically. Anyone who's so inclined is welcome to weigh in on this again. But if you're burned out, I understand.)
Anyway, acting for the client is half the point, but only half. The other half isn't about whether you'll do a good job on a case, it's about the nature of criminal defense. It has no qualifier. There's no "even if" about working to get those sleazy Luzerne County judges off, no "since they're my clients." (They aren't, I'm hypothesizing.) To speak that way is to lay out an ambivalence in language (if not thoughts, but all I can go from is the words) that doesn't work in the business. If you represent them, of you even look at their case from the perspective of a criminal defense lawyer, you have to see it exclusively and wholly from the perspective that says, "Of course they did nothing wrong/nothing criminal/nothing whatever that merits even a slap on the wrist." You've got not just to work the case but to believe in it whole hog.
The thing is that being a criminal defense lawyer isn't the same as defending people charged with or convicted of crimes. It's a way of looking at the world.
I don't doubt for a moment that the role (and maybe it's that I don't view it as a "job" but as a calling) serves a higher good than just the client's interest. I think there's nothing nobler in the law, and little nobler outside it, than to advocate for and serve the criminally accused and the criminally convicted. Unlike Scott, I have yet to find the category of person I won't willingly represent (the Bernie Madoff's of the world might be it, but they've never come knocking). When I say that I represent _______, I'm proud to be able to say it. And to mean it.
That IS the higher purpose. To stand beside the reviled. To say here I am. You only get to him through me. I am the bulwark against the system and against the power of the government. If there's justice at the end, it's incidental, and I'm not working for it. (And, by the way, opposing injustice - whatever that might be - isn't the same as pursuing justice - whatever that might be.)
Sure, I do that within what we call the "criminal justice system." That system is supposed to be a means of effecting "Justice" as a Platonic Ideal or Form, but if the system is working toward that end, I'm not. I'm working toward what I can do for my client.
Look, insofar as some of us are arguing about whether "Justice" defined as "X" is part of what criminal lawyers work toward while others say that "Justice" defined as "Y" is not, we're simply having two separate discussions on the same page.
But if the would-be lawyer whose post started all this sees criminal defense (or law in general) as requiring a specially calibrated "moral compass" (her term) and imagines that in representing criminals she can try to obtain punishments that also rehabilitate, she's aiming at the wrong business. Don't want to be a mob lawyer? Fine. Become a DUI specialist or do nothing but capital work. But neither requires (or done well allows) a peculiar moral perspective or an openness to repairing the client. If that's what she wants/thinks/feels/understands ABOUT THE SORT OF LAW SHE'S DECIDED SHE WANTS TO DO, criminal defense, and probably law in general, is the wrong business for her.
This isn't Perry Mason. We mostly don't represent the erroneously charged. And frankly, those of us who've been at it for a while would mostly rather not. But aside from the preference, questions of guilt (whether we're speaking factually, legally, or morally) are no more than problems to be dealt with as part of the representation. It is irrelevant except insofar as it poses a problem.
Anyone who finds those positions other than incompatible with this work makes me nervous. My concern is what seems to be a mixing (not a mixing up, but a mixing) of two concepts of "justice." I've tried to explain that I don't think criminal defense is about either. Nor is it, particularly, about fighting injustice most of the time (which isn't, in any case, advocating justice).
What we do is both simpler and maybe nobler than seeking justice (whatever that is). IN any case, it's different from seeking justice. Maybe the words are just too abstract. Maybe what we need is to echo the philosophy class demand for defining your terms.
I mean all of this, but it's little more than eloquent (if that) BS. I have discovered that I am a criminal defense lawyer. That's me. To my toenails. When I was working for the ACLU and basically out of the criminal defense business, I was still a criminal defense lawyer. I can be no other, and maybe that's why (and how) I view things in these stark terms. But if it's what you are, there's no give in it, no ambiguity.
I enjoy the debate, but I'm passionate about the thing. It's not something I do. It's what I am. Can one do criminal defense without that passion and single-minded commitment? Sure. But those who do are not criminal defense lawyers. There's a difference.
This is rambling (even more than usual for me) and repetitive. I apologize for that. I'm not saying that you have to use my language to do criminal defense or be a criminal defense lawyer. You don't have to think about these things at all, let alone think or talk about them my way. But I am saying that the goal of criminal defense is achieving the interest of the criminally accused or convicted. That's not negotiable.
If your goal is "justice" (whatever that means) RATHER THAN the interest of the client - even if it happens that they overlap - then you may be defending a criminal but you're not doing criminal defense. And you probably shouldn't. If you're defining "justice" to mean "the interest of the client," then there's not even an issue. But if by "justice" you mean something like "a correct result in a neutral universe," then
- I don't know what they hell you're talking about.
- It's beyond my understanding - and certainly beyond any sort of agreement among people - what that result would be.
- It's not what a criminal defense lawyer seeks.
Charged by her father, King Lear, with the demand to issue hyperbolic statements of her love, Cordelia cannot.
Unhappy that I am, I cannot heaveHer simple eloquence speaks truth, though it's a truth Lear cannot/ will not hear. "Bond" in this case is obligation, but it's far more than mere obligation. Cordelia's word is that she loves unconditionally and totally. It's her bond not just to her King and her father but to the very nature of the bond between daughter and father. It's a legal, cultural, religious bond. It's a demand from God and from the heart. And it is who Cordelia was. Nor more nor less.
My heart into my mouth: I love your majesty
According to my bond; nor more nor less.
And so it is for criminal defense lawyers. We defend. No more. It is our bond.
And as Cordelia's love is both noble and ultimately (albeit too late) ennobling, so too our bond. Pure, simple, clear. We defend.
Nor more, nor less.