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Criminal Defense: an Important and Misunderstood Field of Law

Updated on October 5, 2015

People oftentimes ask me, "how can you represent someone you know is guilty?" Or they'll say, "how do you sleep at night when your job is to help criminals go free?" It makes me laugh when the same people call me up later to protest about how a police officer searched their vehicle without a warrant, or their consent. Astonishing what a one-sided view most people tend to have regarding the criminal defense profession, typically failing to comprehend what a valuable asset this line of work tends to provide to the nation. It's also quite ironic how criminal defense attorneys tend to get run down in public the most as being, according to the various allegations I've heard, the lowest forms of professionals on the planet, yet in the world of entertainment they're typically regarded as heroes. Who can forget Perry Mason, Lt. Daniel Kaffee from "A Few Good Men," more recently Hank Palmer from "The Judge," and of course, everyone's favorite, Atticus from "To Kill a Mockingbird." How can characters like these be perceived as heroes when two of the primary responsibilities associated with their jobs, according to so many individuals I've spoken with, are to represent people they know are guilty, and to set criminals free?

The answer is quite simple: people need a scapegoat for the vast amount of continuing crime in the world, and criminal defense attorneys tend to be a fitting target. In truth, criminal defense attorneys do occasionally represent people they know are guilty, but unless criminal defense attorneys wish to become criminals themselves, such people will only be set free when justice so requires. To prevent setting precedents of unconstitutional police conduct, justice does occasionally require it by way of the suppression of valuable evidence that resulted from unlawful police conduct. When this happens, however, it's not a whole lot different than injecting someone with a small dose of a deadly virus to prevent the virus from spreading its deadly effects. In other words, risking a little harm to the nation by setting an occasional known criminal free does more good for the nation in the long-run by means of preserving a constitution that forbids corrupt police powers.

To allow unconstitutional police behavior to slide just once would enable a slippery slope, at the bottom of which our nation's constitution, which has kept this country strong throughout its immutable two-hundred and forty year reign, will have lost its entire meaning. Much of the liberties this nation's citizens have maintained the constitutional right to enjoy would be forced to yield to the spreading of allowable police corruption. People need to remember, the police state the British sought to create within the seventeenth and eighteenth century American colonies was one of the primary reasons America fought for ,and proclaimed its independence from England. By serving as a check and balance on potentially brutal and unconstitutional police behavior defense attorneys work to uphold the strengths and liberties upon which this nation was founded in an effort to ensure this police state never happens again.

A constitution of declining meaning could also eventually lead to a justice system comprised of convicting not only the guilty, but the innocent as well. Which leads me to my next point: protection of the innocent. The reason most Hollywood portrayed defense attorneys, like the ones specified above, are oftentimes heroes on the big screen is because of their roles in protecting the innocent. This is a noble task few people seem to realize is the exclusive responsibility of attorneys who practice in the field of criminal defense.

It's been said that it's a far greater injustice to put an innocent person behind bars, than to set a guilty person free. I think deep down most people tend to agree with this. But in a world without criminal defense attorneys, many innocent individuals would end up in prison nonetheless. Criminal defense attorneys present evidence for their clients that would likely otherwise go unnoticed by prosecutors. In doing so they ensure the scales of justice are rightfully balanced against the possibility of wrongful convictions. It's important to note that, much for the same reason police officers typically have monthly quotas to meet, prosecutors have incentives to ensure convictions in every case of criminal accusation. Criminal fines provide revenues, and prison sentences help ensure government funding. While most criminal defense attorneys are private practitioners, typically hired based on their reputations and billing rates, and compensated whether they win or lose, judges, prosecutors, social workers, police officers, probation officers, prison guards, and general court staff all rely exclusively on the government to provide their paychecks. Unfortunate as it may seem, the business aspect that most people so despise in the world of medicine exists very vividly in the world of law as well.

It's little wonder why the penalties for crimes all around the country have become much stricter over recent years. Law enforcement officers have become far less likely to let crime suspects go with a mere slap on the wrist and a warning. Judges have become much less inclined to express sympathy over offenses, which in recent history were frequently regarded as petty. Politicians have been rewriting crime statutes to ensure mandatory minimum fines and sentences are being enforced in every jurisdiction for charges that used to oftentimes get dropped. Public ignorance of these changes indicates that more revenue by way of enhanced fines, and funding to accommodate for longer and more abundant prison sentences, may easily have been a bigger motive for these recent changes than the possibility of reducing crime. Meanwhile people getting framed, wrongfully accused, and sentenced beyond the limits of statutory allowances face the possibility of even stricter undeserved punishments than in recent decades.

It goes without saying that justice would be mere fantasy without criminal defense attorneys. I'm sure most people would agree that freedom for the innocent is not only a constitutional assurance in this nation, but a God given right intended every human being on the planet. To deprive an innocent person from their liberty would be no different than to endorse a world of tyranny. A democratic society therefore needs methods to establish innocence, and to prevent cruel and unusual punishments of the guilty, which are also constitutionally forbidden in this nation. Criminal defense attorneys, acting under this nation's laws, have been fulfilling this method for centuries. So are they really just bottom-feeders, or is this perhaps merely a badly misinformed rumor regarding their purpose to society? I think "A Few Good Men" exemplifies that even when the truth isn't readily known, it still can be handled.



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    • Oztinato profile image

      Oztinato 2 years ago from Australia


      the case finished yesterday and the jury took less than an hour to find the defendent NOT guilty of 7 bogus charges of assault against police! They tried to claim the defendent was a wild man. The police only had sore hands etc from beating the defendent while the defendent had extremely serious facial and body injuries. An investigation and compensation case will be forth coming.

      The defence lawyer had found evidence of collusion, outright fabrication, missing evidence etc.

    • lukemike92 profile image

      lukemike92 2 years ago

      Thanks for your comments and feedback. I think Jim Garrison is a good example of how desperate prosecutors can become in turning summons's into convictions, even when the evidence doesn't support it. Not to target him in particular, but it's just that he was one of the few prosecutors who made national attention. As for police, I hear about enough unlawful police conduct to know that they don't always behave as well as they do on reality television.

    • Learn Things Web profile image

      Learn Things Web 2 years ago from California

      I think most people assume that police and prosecutors are looking for the truth when investigating crimes. Because they trust them they assume if a person is arrested they are most likely guilty. I've been reading so many things about false confessions, prosecutors ignoring evidence a suspect may be innocent and the possible unreliability of eye-witness evidence in the last few years. I think if more people realized how corrupt the criminal justice system is they'd have more respect for the work done by defense attorneys.

    • Hazel Abee profile image

      Hazel Abee 2 years ago from Malaysia

      This is a super interesting article .. Really breaking it diwn .. Only one thing though .. If possible put it chapters so that the fliw of thoughts can be focused .. Hope to read more from this legal aspects especially on commercial crimes ..cheers

    • lukemike92 profile image

      lukemike92 2 years ago

      Hope the defense attorneys are doing well in that case...too much of that going on in the world today. I was thinking the same thing about the photo. I was in a hurry to leave work and it was the first image to come to mind. It'll be different when the work day starts tomorrow. Thanks for your comment.

    • Oztinato profile image

      Oztinato 2 years ago from Australia

      Thanks for this hub. By coincidence it appeared at a crucial time on the last day of a trial here about an innocent man who assisted police to calm a person down only to be viciously attacked by police and blamed. The defense found a whole array of evidence in support of the real story.

      One suggestion: replace tom cruise with a real actor, say gregory peck!