Last week, I was volunteering with Officer Kelly Bennett at the 8th Grade Career Expo. We were there to talk about careers in criminal justice. I was overwhelmed by the number of students who filled our classroom. We actually had to get extra chairs.
During our presentation, I was asked a question that I have answered many times. A student asked, “How do you defend a person when you know they are guilty?”
This is one of the best questions I am asked and surprisingly the easiest. I didn’t have time to give the student a full explanation. So, I would like to do it here.
1. MY DUTY – I have a duty to uphold the Constitution of the United States and Georgia. In the scope of criminal defense, I am mandated to represent my client to the best of my ability. In short, I am an advocate for a defendant, who can be you, a family member, or best friend. Judges and juries are mandated to determine the guilt or innocence of an accused person. Guilty men are usually found guilty at trial.
2. THE CONSTITUTION – The Constitution protects the rights of defendants in criminal trials like no other country in the history of the world. While our judicial system is not perfect, it separates us from communist countries, places like the former Soviet Union, Cuba, China, some middles eastern states, and the defeated Third German Reich. In those examples, human defendants had little to no rights. This resulted in mass murder, lifetime exiles, unspeakable human rights abuses, and the incarceration of political prisoners.
Our Constitution, which was divinely inspired, provides rights like a speedy trial, a ban on cruel and unusual punishment, a right for a defendant to testify at trial (but cannot be forced to so), the presumption of innocence, just to name a few.
The Government has a very large burden of proof to overcome in order to gain a conviction; guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. These rights are applied to the accused shoplifter and the accused murderer. To suggest that these rights should not apply to criminal defendants would be to defy our Founding Fathers, advocate for the “living and breathing Constitutional theory”, and put this country further into darkness.
3. EVERYONE CHERISHES THESE RIGHTS – In society, we have millions of people who believe that “criminals” should be punished more harshly. You will see an amazing 180 degree shift in the attitude in these folks when they or a loved one is accused of a crime. When this happens, the accused wants to know everything about what rights he or she may have in a criminal prosecution.
These are the reasons that I love to do my duty every day. But, perhaps the best reason that attorneys protect the rights of the accused, whether the attorney personally believes the defendant is guilty of innocent, is known as the “Slippery Slope Effect.”
A slippery slope in nature is a steep earthen hill where the movement of one rock or piece of dirt can cause a rockslide, earth slide, or avalanche. This is an undeniable law of nature.
Another undeniable law of nature is the inability of humans to all agree on anything. This is probably good.
But, when we take a look at people accused of heinous crimes, some folks believe that they should just be executed on the spot. I feel this way myself in a handful of cases. Thus, we remove one rock from the slope. Then, where do we stop? If the accused murderer doesn’t deserve a fair trial, what about the woman accused of armed robbery? What about man who shoots another man and claims self-defense. Should his rights be taken away if he shoots a popular person in the community?
Why don’t we just take all “undesirables” and place them in “camps” to eventually be executed? This would make for a better society, right?
I just hope that an increasingly left wing national government does not label me as an “undesirable” because of my right wing views.
You see where I am going. Humans cannot stop the rockslide of the slippery slope of who deserves Constitutional rights and who does not. It is not in our nature. Our Founders knew this as they witnessed their friends hang from trees and physically lose their heads with the swing of a sword.
The slippery slope is the reason we have that cherished document, the United States Constitution. Please cherish it; for the guilty and innocent. For everyone.