I’LL STAND BY YOU

DEFENDING THE GUILTY

Whenever someone finds out I am a criminal defense attorney they want to know, “How can you defend people who you know are guilty?” I want to ask them, “How can we not?”

Most people understand after lengthy discussion that society needs people who are willing to stand up for the accused.

Our system is an adversarial one and in order to help insure that innocent people are not punished for crimes they did not commit, then a force (hopefully equally funded and resourced) needs to be opposing the force of the government when they make efforts to deprive citizens of their liberty in order to insure that justice is done.

EQUAL UNDER THE LAW

Many people agree with the idea that people who are accused of a crime should be given a lawyer if they cannot afford one, but I have often heard people say that this right should be limited and not offered when a person is “obviously guilty.”

Of course, the issue then becomes who decides who is obviously guilty?  Is it enough that a police officer accuses you? What if you are caught on tape? Or if you confess? Lawyers protect people beyond the guilty/not guilty question.

Are there mental health issues at play? Is there some sort of mitigation? Everyone may agree my client pulled the trigger, but did he do so out of anger or in self-defense? Was it an accident or a mistake?

Take away the Aurora Colorado’s shooter’s right to have a lawyer, then be ready to forfeit that right for yourself and your loved ones as well.

If everyone does their job to the best of their ability within the confines of the law and the rules of ethics, then the system has a chance of finding justice, but only if there are people willing to stand up on both sides of the table.

HOW CAN YOU DO IT THOUGH?

The reason I personally do this is because I am able. I believe there are certain people just born with a profound sensitivity to injustice in their DNA, a recognition that we are all in the same boat and the us/them paradigm does violence to our humanity.

BEARING WITNESS

There are countless stories of innocent people caught up in the system facing charges for crimes they did not commit. In fact Texas has likely executed another innocent man. I do this for them, but make no mistake I do this for those caught up in the system facing charges for crimes they most certainly did commit.

Not only because I don’t know who is in one group and who is in the other, but because some of the most profoundly meaningful moments for me in my career have come when I sit in quiet compassion with men who are coming to terms with having committed unspeakable acts of violence and the consequences they now face as a result of those acts.

They are forever defined for all their lives by the worst moment of their life; no longer seen as someone’s brother or son or father, but as the murderer, the rapist, the child molester. My job is to see them, their dignity and their humanity and to show that humanity to those who would sit in judgment of them.

There is something profound that happens when a man comes to terms with what he has done and recognizes you there with him, in that space, by his side, regardless.  Not excusing or condoning, but being present and bearing witness. In the 20 years that I have practiced I have never represented a child molester or child abuser who was not himself a victim of those crimes.

I say that not to excuse the conduct, but to ask what if some enlightened witness had happened into his life earlier and recognized, and helped him to recognize, his own dignity and  his own worth, would he be sitting there beside me now?

(see The Atlantic article on the Exoneration Registry here)
Carlos De Luna
Cameron Todd Willingham

 

2 thoughts on “I’LL STAND BY YOU

  1. Very well said Elena! I have often wondered how criminal defense lawyers can stand in the trenches with their guilty clients. You have cleared that up for me. I am glad that you and others like you, are there for our less fortunate brothers to make sure that they are treated justly. I can’t imagine what it’s like to walk in the shoes of a man charged with a heinous crime, but I can imagine that the walk is a little less lonely with a defender such as you beside him. Thank you for making a difference in their lives.

  2. This reminds me that there are a couple of books out there with the same title, “How Can You Defend Those People?” — one by James Simon Kunen, author of the Strawberry Statement, and the other by Mickey Sherman. The former I started to read once and got sidetracked, and I’d like to read it again. Not so sure about Sherman’s book. But it’s true — everyone is entitled to a good defense, no matter what.

Comments are closed.