People often ask lawyers why they defend criminals accused of committing heinous crimes, people who are deemed to be obviously guilty and repeat offenders. This question is not unusual considering the violence, depravity, and decay of civility in society today and considering the intolerant attitudes held by many toward those accused of crimes, primed by crime news and crime TV shows. The answer and primary reason for defending those accused of committing crimes can be found in the Bill of Rights in the U.S. Constitution. That living document is an answer to the aforementioned question; everyone deserves, and is entitled to, a fair trial under law.
Rights Set Forth In The US Constitution
People accused of crimes have a number of guarantees under the Bill of Rights including the presumption that people are innocent until they are legally proven guilty.
The Fifth Amendment provides for:
- Due process, which is legal proceedings conducted under the principles and procedures that have been established
- Protection from double jeopardy, which is holding a second trial for the same offense after an acquittal
- The right to not incriminate one’s self
- Indictment by a grand jury rather than arrests without cause
The Sixth Amendment provides for:
- A speedy trial to prevent a person being held for long periods without redress
- A public trial to avoid sham proceedings
- A jury free of bias, prejudice and self-interests
- The right to face and confront the accusers
- The right to hear the testimony of defense witnesses
- The right to have competent legal counsel even if the defendant cannot afford an attorney
- A trial held in the state where the offense occurred
The Fourteenth Amendment of 1868, which isn’t part of the Bill of Rights, established that due process is also the legal obligation of the states.
Ethical Considerations for Criminal Defense Attorneys
Criminal defense attorneys practicing in every area of law have an ethical duty under the American Bar Association’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct to ensure that every client receives ethical representation, no matter what crimes are committed. If the defendant admits guilt to the lawyer, that information falls under attorney-client privilege and the attorney cannot divulge that knowledge to anyone. An attorney who fails to perform ethically can be suspended or even barred from the practice of law.
Interaction With Defendants Accused Of Committing A Crime
Despite the provision of all these rights innocent people are convicted. The Innocence Project estimates that between 2.3% and 5% of prisoners throughout the country are wrongly convicted. It’s the moral and legal duty of every criminal defense attorney to do their upmost to protect clients and provide the best defense possible. A criminal defense attorney can’t allow personal attitudes and feelings about the crime or the accused to interfere with the development of the defense.
The Influence Of Public Opinion On High Profile Crimes
High profile crimes attract media attention and the reports, the investigation, the apprehension of a suspect, and the suspect’s photo is widely shown in the various media outlets. Does a defendant get a fair trial with all that negative publicity? This is a question that defense lawyers must ponder upon when involved in such a case. Potential jurors are swayed by media reports, but once they hear the defense’s case their attitude may change. In some cases the local publicity is so thick that the trial has to be moved to another city in the state.
Therefore, to summarize, attorneys defend people accused of crimes because of the following reasons:
- To uphold the U.S. Constitution
- To protect the accused from the excesses of law enforcement
- Because it truly is satisfying to help people in trouble
If you or someone you love has been accused of a crime, it is imperative to retain experienced and competent legal counsel to protect your rights and safeguard your future.
Anthony Chauncey is a criminal defense attorney in Florida who has dedicated his life to the craft and is ready to stand by your side throughout the entire case, should you have any questions or concerns about the process.