Criminal defense in Austin Texas.

How Do You Do It?

Posted By on January 8, 2009

Let me start by saying I’ve never, to my knowledge, convinced a non-lawyer of the truth of what I’m about to say:

Defending people, who are guilty, is absolutely the right thing to do.

Like I said, I’ve never convinced a non-lawyer that the above statement is true.

I’m going to make a run at it here, though I don’t know that it’ll be any more successful than any other attempt.

Any person who’s watched Law & Order, or any TV show about the criminal defense system, or any movie with a trial in it, knows one thing pretty much up-front (and certainly before the trial begins): whether the accused is guilty.  (Mysteries are different, but they’re about figuring out who the bad guy is, not what happens after you figure it out.)

If he’s guilty, then there’s a scumbag criminal defense attorney, who’ll pull out all the stops in his attempts to get the client off on some technicality or another, or by confusing or misleading the jury.

If he’s innocent, there’s a corrupt, lying cop, an arrogant, blindly ambitious prosecutor, and a system that grinds down the innocent defendant.  (There may also be either an incompetent public defender, or else a cynical, burnt-out veteran lawyer, who winds up taking the case for free, and in the process rediscovers his commitment to justice… but that’s another story.)

There’s a lot that I could say about the Hollywood version of criminal defense.  But let me just say it’s 100% wrong.  And that it’s nevertheless the prism through which most non-lawyers (I believe) view the criminal justice system.

It’s true that almost nobody matches up to the Hollywood versions of themselves.  Most defendants are neither criminal masterminds, nor innocent victims of corrupt malevolent cops.  (Few cops, to my knowledge, go around looking for innocent people to frame.)  There are plenty of great public defenders, and more than a few private lawyers who couldn’t find their way to the courthouse if you led them by the hand.

But that’s not the main point.

The main point is that a trial is not just an exercise in which you try to confirm something that’s already known.  It’s the process you go through to reach that conclusion.

What that means, in practical terms, is that I don’t know whether my client is guilty.  I know what he says, what the police say, and what the evidence shows.  I may have an opinion, or a guess, or even a pretty good idea.  But I don’t know.  Unlike in the movies, I didn’t get to see what happened.

And really, it doesn’t even matter.  It’s not up to me to make that decision.  It’ll be a jury, or a judge, or, if the client pleads guilty, the client himself who decides.  However it works out, I’m never the one who has to be convinced, of anything.  My role is to provide a defense, not to sit in judgment.


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