“Of Lies & Lawyers”

The Wall Street Journal reviewed the new television series, “Law & Order: Trial by Jury.” I took offense to the inference that defense attorneys are willing to commit any act, even lie, in order to acquit their “guilty” clients.

This is my response to Dorothy Rabinowitz, the author:

Your article, “Of Lies and Lawyers,” (WSJ, February 25, 2005) could have made a real contribution to the public’s understanding of the American judicial system.

The Constitution of the United States guarantees that all defendants are entitled to a quality defense, not a porous or inadequate defense! Even if the defendant is guilty of the crime charged, s/he is still entitled to quality representation. This is a right guaranteed by our Constitution! Thus, the comment, “I don’t care if you did it.” If the defendant cannot afford counsel, the government will appoint a public defender.

Your opening paragraph says that “most attorneys have no trouble whatever arguing for the innocence of clients they know to be guilty (emphasis added) of horrendous crimes.” First,
professional rules governing attorneys’ conduct prevent them from allowing their clients to commit perjury if/when they know the testimony to be false. Second, defense attorneys normally don’t argue the innocence of clients, rather they argue that the prosecution didn’t prove their case.

Your example of a system gone awry is the O.J. Simpson case. First, the jury believed that the prosecution failed to prove its case as charged. Simpson did not testify; he is not required to testify. The defense did NOT have to prove Simpson’s innocence, only that the prosecution failed to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. It was not relevant what the press or public believed; it was not relevant whether Simpson was a “bad” man. The only relevant issues were those presented in the court of law to the jury by the prosecution and then tested by the cross-examination of the defense attorneys. The jury did not find Simpson innocent, only “not guilty.”

The real beauty of our judicial system (as contrasted to the French system) is that an accused is presumed to be innocent until the prosecution proves beyond a reasonable doubt that he’s guilty of the crime charged.


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