Criminal defense lawyers sometime get a not-so-flattering portrayal because people assume that they defend guilty people. However, if you are a defendant in a criminal proceeding, you need the assistance of a qualified criminal defense lawyer, regardless of your guilt or innocence. As the protectors and advocates of the accused, defense lawyers play a pivotal role in the United States justice system to see that everyone charged with a criminal act has an opportunity to defend themselves.
Defense Lawyers Protect the Rights of the Accused
First and foremost, a criminal defense lawyer’s role is to protect the rights of the accused. Upholding your rights under the Bill of Rights as set forth in the United States Constitution, criminal defense lawyers are bound by law to assist their clients by making sure you are treated fairly by the United States criminal justice system. Specifically, your criminal defense lawyer’s job is to see that you are allowed:
·The right to a trial by a jury of your peers;
·The right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt”;
· The right to a speedy and public trial;
· The right to remain silent;
·The right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures; and
·The right to legal counsel.
All these rights are guaranteed by the United States Constitution and are applicable to all states through the Fourteenth Amendment as well as United States Supreme Court case opinions. As such, a criminal defense lawyer is obligated to provide clients with protection against the overreach of the government in meting out punishment to any individual accused of a criminal offense. An experienced, qualified lawyer accomplishes this by challenging any government or law enforcement conduct that violates the rights of any United States citizen accused of a crime. Should a criminal defense lawyer fail to make reasonable efforts to protect your rights or provide effective assistance, he/she risks losing his/her license to practice law or other penalties (some of which could include jail time).
Criminal Lawyers Defend the Innocent
The second most important role of a criminal defense attorney is to defend the innocent. We see daily about overturned criminal cases where new evidence verifies the incarceration of an innocent person who has served time as a result of an incorrect guilty verdict. And, while for the most part, most clients of criminal defense attorneys are somewhat criminally culpable in the crime they have been charged with, on rare occasions, some of a lawyer’s clients are truly innocent. Though a rare occurrence, innocent people are accused and convicted of criminal offenses.
To combat the prosecution of the wrongly accused, criminal defense lawyers must be diligent in holding prosecutors and police accountable for every stage of their investigation in every case they handle. Thus, defense lawyers must take seriously their role as advocates for the innocent and the not-so-innocent to assure that the guilty don’t escape while the innocent are punished.
Therefore, to accomplish the task of upholding a client’s constitution rights and acting as a watchdog to oversee the conduct of police and prosecutors, a criminal defense lawyer must zealously pursue independent investigations into the crime for which a client has been accused to assure that at trial, that client is either completely exonerated or that there is enough evidence to prove that reasonable doubt exists to warrant his/her client’s release from custody.
And, while for the majority of instances, a person who has reached the point of a jury trial is guilty, defense attorneys are mandated to provide every client an opportunity to a fair trial. Guilty or not, everyone has the constitutional right to have a fair trial. With a strong belief in the adversarial nature of the criminal justice system, reputable criminal defense attorneys recognize the right of every citizen to have representation and sometimes must put aside their emotions to represent those who have committed very serious crimes.
Criminal Defense Lawyers Defend the Guilty
In general guilty clients that criminal defense attorney’ represent fall into two categories:
·Those who deny criminal culpability; and
·Those who take responsibility for their criminal behavior
Most lawyers agree that the most difficult criminal client to represent is one that takes some responsibility for the crime as it is much easier to establish innocence or reasonable doubt when you don’t think your client is guilty. Facing ethical and moral dilemmas daily, a criminal defense lawyer must deal with situations where they have knowingly facilitated the release of a guilty person, risking their reputation and a clear conscience. On the other hand, defense lawyers get a great deal of satisfaction when their representation of an accused individual has a positive impact on society. For instance, when a criminal defense lawyer helps a client avoid more serious legal consequences by intervening in lives to affect positive change (i.e., plea bargains of rehabilitation instead of jail time, community service and probation instead of jail time etc.). As a trusted advocate, criminal defense lawyers have a great deal of influence on their clients’ lives as opposed to a judge, prosecutor or probation officer.
Lawyers are a Necessary Part of the United States Judicial System
Sometimes portrayed as villains who help criminals run free, criminal defense lawyers are necessary for the United States legal system to run smoothly. Without the availability of qualified legal representation for those accused of crimes, the potential for overreach by government would be great. A balanced system where all parties are represented and where one side isn’t given free rein to rule over the other is what our judicial system is all about. And, while every system has its flaws, the United States judicial system is still the best available in the world.