I have been asked the above question numerous times throughout my career. It is a fair question and one that can easily be answered based on my world view and religious beliefs.
First, I truly enjoy the work that I do. To me, there is nothing more interesting than American criminal law and procedure.
Second, contrary to the belief of some folks, my primary role is not to “get guilty people off the hook.” My primary role is to ensure that the United States Constitution is protected in every case that I handle in every courtroom where I appear. If the Constitution is not applied to the guilty and the innocent alike, then all of our rights are in jeopardy and America begins its journey toward Soviet style justice.
Our Founders had the wisdom to form the framework for a system of justice that uniquely balances the need to cut out crime and protect the citizen who is accused at the same time. Most Americans believe that if someone is going to prison or be executed, they should have a fair trial and have been represented by a competent criminal defense attorney.
Another question that is often asked is “How can you represent someone you know is guilty?” This is another fair question.
From an initial standpoint, oftentimes I do not know if the client is guilty or not. Sometimes a person may be guilty of some charges, but not others. In cases where the evidence of guilt is overwhelming, my job is to negotiate a resolution to the case that is in the best interest of my client. Jury trials are rare under these circumstances.
Oftentimes, the client is not guilty of anything. Believe it or not, people are accused of crimes they did not commit. You will see a vast change of attitude by people who are critical of criminal defense attorneys until the minute they or their child is arrested for a criminal offense. I have seen this first hand many times.
Another reason I love my job is that through God, I am able to help people in need. Many of my clients are charged with drug and alcohol offenses. If the root of the problem can be addressed, prosecutors and judges are much more willing to look favorably on the client.
Less addiction means less crime in our community. My firm has access to a vast amount of resources designed to address drug and alcohol issues in our legal system.
Lastly, my faith has in part led me to the commitment to criminal defense. As a Christian, I try my best to learn the ways of Jesus Christ. According to the New Testament, Jesus, the Son of God, appeared to me to be non-judgmental toward those that society considered to be “criminals”. He was unafraid to minister to the prostitute, the tax collector, and the thief. He even “defended” a woman charged with the capital offense of adultery and saved her from death by stoning. He famously said (paraphrased) “You without sin, may cast the first stone.”
Jesus was also executed with two other convicted thieves beside him on crosses. One of them was promised salvation by Jesus.
I hope that I have shed some light on why I believe that many years ago God has led me to become a criminal defense lawyer. While this column may not change the minds of those with firmly held beliefs, I feel confident that it will at least provoke some thought about the true role of the criminal defense attorney in the United States of America.