Why I Am a Defense Attorney: Defending the Defenders

Public opinion of criminal defense attorneys continues to fall. Celebrity trials, sex scandals, and the never-ending bad news cycle has casted the profession in its darkest light ever. The decline is unfortunate.

I am not techincally a criminal defense attorney. The term "criminal" is a conclusion. It implies guilt. True, many are eventually found guilty. But categorizing the profession as "criminal defense" puts the cart before the horse a bit. To be more specific, I am a constitutional defense attorney, and proud of it.

"But how can you defend criminals?" "What if you know someone is guilty?" These questions, and judgments, are common once someone discovers what I do for a living. No matter my answer, the inquisitor is never satisfied. Curious or intrigued, most question innocently enough. However, many attempt an extraction by persuasion of my immoral ways. Deaf ears are custom. Critical thinking fails.

I cannot blame them. Disdain for the profession is part of our culture. It has been for a long time. The causes are plentiful but the real spread of contempt is due largely to the profession itself. We have not done a good job at convincing the public of our role, our purpose. At least no one has recently.

One would think that the task is not too difficult. After all, Abraham Lincoln was once a successful defense attorney. We do not question his morality. John Adams was a defense attorney. Fully expecting the demise of his career and possible harm to his family, he challenged the horde of inquisitors and defended the soldiers accused of murder in the Boston Massacre. Adams believed that counsel for the accused is the last thing a civilized society should go without.

The framers of the Constitution and drafters of the Bill of Rights agreed with Adams. The Sixth Amendment expressly guarantees the right to counsel for all people accused of crimes. Aside from the President, Congress, and Judiciary, the Constitution safeguards no other profession. In this way, defense lawyers are a part of government when they serve the people. They also battle the government when liberties and rights are at stake. Defense lawyers defend individuals. Yet, they also defend the Constitution. They are the players huddled around, and making their living by, the struggle that occurs on the line that separates the people from the government.

It is easy to pass judgment on the accused and their counsel. Defense attorneys are accustomed to the pressure of public opinion coupled with the weight and might of the government. Someone has to do the job. Just remember who will be there for you if you are ever wrongly accused and the world turns against you. Maybe then your opinion may change.