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Both Sides Now

both sides to a case

My last post is getting some interesting feedback. Pro-Pot types think it was a good discussion about the legalization of marijuana here in Washington State. Anti-MJ folks see it as a wonderful condemnation of the harmful effects of drugs. Some felt my treatment of the Seattle City Attorney, Pete Holmes, was too harsh, others thought it was too kind. Everyone loved the photo of Rob Ford, looking as if he is about to explode.

The fact is my whole point in writing that was to be neutral on the subject. I did not (and do not) want to take sides on that issue. It’s not my job. I’m just a lawyer. I don’t take sides unless I am getting paid. Actually, that’s not entirely true, as I am known to be pretty outspoken about my political opinions and personal viewpoints. In private. In public I’m available for hire. Pay me and I will argue it, up to a point.

That point is always the same: I won’t knowingly straight up lie about anything in the course of performing my duties as a criminal defense attorney. That means I will not knowingly say something that I know to be untrue.

I may let people get the wrong impression by saying things a certain way. I may emphasize facts that I know will lead them to reach their own conclusion, which I may know is wrong. I may make them “think things” as a prosecutor once objected in the middle of a trial, but that episode deserves its own posting.

The one cardinal rule we all have to follow is that we cannot be a party to a fraud on the court. In other words, if our clients tell us that they committed a crime we cannot and will not allow them to take the witness stand and say that they didn’t. That’s about it. Pretty much everything else goes. This is why I have represented people charged with some pretty major crimes for months on end and never asked them whether they did the crime. I didn’t want to know.

“WHAT?!?!” You may well ask. I understand. How can I possibly do my job effectively without knowing whether my client is guilty? The answer is simple.

It is totally irrelevant.

“WHAT WHAT?!!?”, I hear you say. But, it’s true. It makes zero difference to me whether or not someone is guilty of a crime when I represent them. None. What matters is what is the evidence that the Government wants to try to use against them, what issues does that evidence present, what evidence is out there that might contradict the Government’s case, what exactly is my client accused of doing wrong, and, finally, what legal issues exist in terms of search and seizure, warrantless arrest, hearsay, improper charging, and on and on. In short, what tools are available to me in any given case to make sure that nobody goes to jail without first leaving no stone unturned before the right to be presumed innocent is overcome. That simple.

Well, not simple really, but that is what I get paid for. There are some cases where it really does matter whether someone is guilty or innocent, primarily in situations where they need treatment to help them stop committing those crimes in the future, such as sex crimes or crimes involving substance abuse. But, that is the subject of another post. For now, I am focusing on the simple cases, the ones where it just does not matter whether someone is guilty.

Still, I hear the skeptics. The ones who say that criminal defense attorneys are a bunch of amoral sociopaths (this could not be further from the truth, by the way, but no matter.) The fact is that we have a system of justice in this country that is the ideal for the citizens of most of the second-class countries in the world, countries where folks get locked up for political or personal or other improper reasons.

Here, if you go prison, the idea is that you only went there after the Government’s case was put to the test through extensive analysis by both the prosecution and defense, research of all legal issues, close review of all factual discrepancies, and ultimately, when appropriate, by a neutral and independent jury looking at the evidence and deciding, beyond a reasonable doubt, whether the crime was committed.

And, for that to work, you have to have criminal defense attorneys who are dedicated to that system and who do not substitute their own opinion about guilt or innocence when it is supposed to be up to juries and judges to do that.

That’s just how it works. If you don’t like it, move to China. Or Russia. Or half the other countries in the world where you can be killed or imprisoned just because you belong to the wrong tribe. Here you gotta come through me before you can try to lock up one of my clients, whether or not they are guilty. That’s the law and that’s my job. And, I am proud to be the last best hope for my clients, who are up against the giant machinery the whole Government brings down on them in their attempt to lock them up and throw away the key.

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