Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Locked Up

A long time ago, when I lived in the South East, I did some contract work for the Crown Prosecution Service; a very interesting job but one I couldn't have undertaken as a permanent post.  I saw many harrowing files, witnessed cases being brought to court, and even sat in on a murder trial to assist one of the law clerks.  It was pressure all the way, and even though I was young, married to my first husband with no children, I just wasn't cut out for the responsibility in which the job demanded. 

Unfortunately, I made few friends and was quite relieved once my contract came to an end, lucky enough to find a permanent job not long after at Rothmans where I did make friends and felt much more at ease.  But even though my temporary post at the CPS didn't work out, I have always been interested in law; attending college to get the Institute of Export qualification thus making my job at Rothmans more successful.

Now I find myself asking a question; as a defence lawyer, knowing your client is guilty, with strong evidence to prove it, how would you defend them?  You have a murderer or the like standing in the witness box, having just sworn on the bible, and refusing to accept responsibility for their actions, yet the lawyer knows otherwise.  Does the lawyer get his client off and risk that person being back on the streets to murder again?  What is classed as winning a case so far as the defence team are concerned? 

41 comments:

  1. That is a very interesting point you are making, and a question my husband and I have discussed often. I used to serve as a "honorary judge" at the Juvenile Court for 8 years and was often faced with the same problem. The crucial moment for a lawyer, I believe, is when he/she decides to take up the case. Then is the moment to decide for yourself how you want to act. You can either defend and get the money, or refuse and keep your soul.

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  2. That's exactly the reason why I could never work as a lawyer. You know, often you hear things like "everyone deserves a good defense", but if I knew the person was guilty, I really couldn't stand up for them and defend them - no matter how much money they might be willing to pay.

    And I guess if you let your conscience get in your way at a job like this, you end up doing lots of honorable work and living in a cupboard or something.

    (But then, it's the same with many other things... a friend of mine, a translator, once took on a good job for an enterprise selling something like "water massage devices" to increase the happiness and quality of your water at home. Of course no one gets hurt for buying such nonsense, but I don't know whether I might have felt like betraying the customers who were supposed to buy such nonsense.)

    If only those stupid morals wouldn't get in your way when trying to become rich... (^v^)

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  3. It is an interesting issue.

    I wrote a post a while back about those who are defending the Bosnian War Criminal Radovan Karadzic, which you might find interesting. I understand the need for him to have a top quality defence team, but it just isn't a job I'd ever be able to do!

    http://britsinbosnia.blogspot.com/2009/07/jobs-id-never-want-to-do.html

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  4. There have been so many high profile cases worldwide over the last few years that bring up this exact question. TBH I am glad I don't have to make that decision but maybe one learns to remove oneself from the situation a bit? Like a Dr in an ER being used to seeing injured people and can keep their cool more than other people can? Jen.

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  5. Very interesting discussion CJ. I know a few defence lawyers and it's always bothered me that they defend those they know to be guilty (in some cases, in relation to serious crime). But their argument would be that everyone is entitled to a fair trial, and that the law of the land deems that you are innocent until proven guilty, not the other way round. So as we do live in a democracy and we are supposedly a civilised society, I think I'd have to agree with them.

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  6. I think questions like that are why you should always work for the prosecution. It takes a certain strength of character to be a defence lawyer.

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  7. I have three words for you...O.J.Simpson!!!! A murderer walked free because a group of lawyers chose money and fame over the truth...very sad.
    PS..for those of you who are not familiar with that case..famous football celebrity horribly murdered ex-wife and friend and with an abundance of evidence to prove it...got off. Shame on those lawyers.

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  8. I also believe that everyone is entitled to a fair trial - if they didn't do it!!! However, once someone has confessed to their lawyer that they are guilty, I believe that the lawyer should be duty-bound to advise the police/courts of that. From then on, it shouldn't be a trial of guilt vs innocence, but one where the only thing up for question is how to punish the person for what they did. The defence lawyer would still be able to fight for their client, but simply to get him/her the best "deal" he can, given that (s)he has already confessed.

    As it stands at the moment, I personally believe that any lawyer whose client admits their guilt to them right from the start, should simply walk away from the case, regardless of how much money is at stake.

    I don't see how they can take it as a "win" if what they have done is help someone get away with a crime.

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  9. I'm with Em, and couldn't have put it better myself. How do these people sleep at night?

    I wonder how a defence lawyer would feel about his job if something terrible happened to one of his family?

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  10. I've often wondered about that too, I know I couldn't defend the guilty which would render me useless in the job because someone's got to do it. :0(

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  11. I'm a lawyer and I don't understand it either. People I know who do this say that they do it because they believe in the system of justice and that everyone deserves a defense. But in my mind, if the person did the crime and there are mitigating factors, admit guilt and then talk about the mitigating factors. And if there are none, then society needs the person to pay - whether via fine or jail time - for their crime against society. I agree with one comment that said you make your choice when you take a case. Luckily for me, I removed myself from the situation by being a transactional attorney who doesn't go to court. Of course, there was a time or two that I told someone I wasn't going to do something because it was fraudulent....

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  12. it is an interesting questions and moral conundrum that i am glad i do not have to live with...

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  13. well your job would be to defend the person no matter what ur personal thoughts were, are, or get a job as a prosecution lawyer xx

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  14. I know I couldn't do it and I find it hard to understand how people who do can live with themselves.

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  15. This is pretty much the reason why two thirds of the way into my law school application I quit.
    My main interest was international human rights law, but I knew that finding a job in that field would take a fair amount of time and may never happen.
    Real estate law and the like didn't appeal to me so I knew I'd end up in the criminal justice system. And I knew I would probably be a defender, especially if I was interested in human rights laws.
    Now while I pictured myself defending abused women or maltreated children who had committed crimes I knew that if I worked for a firm I'd end up having to defend my firm's clients, whomever they were.
    Two reasons why I think defenders can do it:
    1. They're interested in human rights over all else. Each person has right to a fair trial and a fair trial includes the best defence possible.
    2. They believe in the justice system and are passionate about the way it works. If they know their client is guilty they often try to convince them to take a deal. If trial is inevitable they often feel (and this is from a friend of mine that has defended such people) that if the justice system works, they'll lose the trial as their client's guilt is evident. In this case they concentrate their efforts on helping reduce the inevtiable sentence.

    Some, however, are just in it for the money or the glory and are only interested in keeping their track record clean. But it's like that in any profession, isn't it.

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  16. I have thought about this many times. I personally could not do it. I think every one deserves a lawyer and fair trial, but I also think a lawyer who knows the client is quilty should try to get them the help they need, if that's what they need. And negotiate the plea, but not get them off and back on the streets. How can some lawyers sleep at night? Esp. if that person hurts someone else... or worst. Wow... I agree with so many of the comments, I could write about this all day....

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  17. I would be a horrible lawyer...I would not be able to defend a guilty person. Never.

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  18. I have often wondered that CJ - a real moral dilemma. I suppose if that were the case then a defending lawyer would just have to plead for a lesser sentence. Not a job I would have for any money. A

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  19. Knowing he's guilty? I couldn't do it...No matter What...
    hughugs

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  20. Ooh - I do love a moral dilemma. Part of me always regrets not doing a law degree - the books looked too thick and I was too lazy! But in reality, I know this kind of dilemma would have kept me awake at night. There are many many lawyers around the world making huge bucks with no such moral code to worry them. But then again, the lawyer is not the judge. Interesting brain exercise - like it! X

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  21. A short posting but a really profound and thought provoking one.

    We should be pleased and proud that we do live in a country where a person can have a fair trial in front of a jury of their peers.

    Justice must not only be done, it needs to be seen to be done.

    (Sorry if I'm repeating what others have said but I am rushed off my feet today so could only "speed read" the other comments).

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  22. I've often wondered if these lawyers were made to take responsibilty for getting them off the hook should they re offend, would their defence change much? Would they fight tooth and nail for a win which might not be in the ebst interest of the public?

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  23. I believe everyone deserves a fair trial but I could never stand there trying to prove their innocence when I knew my client had committed the crime. Better stick to journalism then!

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  24. I simply could not do it...how can they sleep at night ?

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  25. All interesting comments, thank you for your thoughts and opinions. I couldn't do it. I know every one deserves a fair trial, but in some cases the defendant is guilty which evidence has proved, a family have been devastated, and a lawyer has to fight for their rights. My opinion; something, somewhere, just isn't right.

    Thank you for your comments, CJ xx

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  26. I had a close friend who often found himself in this position. He gave me the impression that he was simply not allowed to defend a client he knew to be guilty. But not allowed by whom? The Law Society? God? His conscience? I don't know.
    He never defended known-guilty defendants.
    He was a charlatan himself, mind.

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  27. I understand the point that you are making, but don't these people always claim that they are innocent?

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  28. I've often wondered how defense lawyers live with themselves when it comes to the nastiest bits of humanity. I don't think I could defend someone I knew was guilty of a heinous crime.

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  29. Thats a difficult one!
    Personally I wouldn't lie and defend someone who could very well go out and harm someone else.
    I think you would have to be able to *switch off* to do this kind of work and somehow detach yourself from the danger, to make this job work for you.
    Not for people who have been bestowed with lots of conscience.

    Nuts in May

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  30. I've often wondered that myself. Lawyers must be experts at justifying anything, even defending guilty clients.

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  31. great question - I too would make a terrible lawyer. I could never stand up for someone who has done something wrong.

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  32. A long time ago a man in my circle of friends was a defense lawyer. Many of us had a problem with him defending criminals. His explanation was that it was not a matter of doing that, but that a case could only be made with a lawyer for each side. I wanted to believe him, but over the years I've become more of a cynic. Seeing the defense sharks on Law & Order hasn't helped.

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  33. I thought lawyers never wanted their client to tell them if they were guilty and thus would not be party to any lies that they then heard in court.

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  35. WWDN - Always happy to add a legitimate link of interest, providing it does not introduce endless spam and inappropriate commenting. This is a family blog.

    Thank you for all your very interesting comments.

    CJ xx

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  36. Hello CJ, thanks for popping by my blog and the encouragement (still in bed!). My husband used to be a criminal lawyer and I grilled him about this. He was always very clear - if a client told him he was guilty but asked him to advocate for a not guilty plea lawyers are not allowed to do this as they are then lying to the court. If the client maintains his innocence even in the face of strong evidence to the contrary, then for the sake of justice (a system wher representation is guaranteed until guilt is proven) he would represent the clients views. Hard, and I am glad he has changed his area of law (he now represents children in care proceedings and his only focus is the best interest of the child). Don't know if that helps with the dilemma you are trying to unknot... or not?!!

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  37. Concetta - Yes, it helps a lot, I was terriblly confused and just needed some clarification. You have made me see things from a different angle. Thank you so much for taking the time to visit my blog and explain.

    CJ xx

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  38. i am fascinated by this concept too. I have a friend who is a barrister "for the prosecution" and I am always bombarding him with questions about that. I find it astonishing that you are given a case and expected to present one angle or another without necessarily fully believing it yourself. Lx

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  39. Hello CJ, thanks for commenting on my blog. I thought I'd pop over & say Hi so here I am. Being a lawyer this post caught my eye and having read the comments I though it appropriate to clarify something.

    If a client admits to his Lawyer (Barrister or Solicitor - one is not "better" than the other we just do slightly different jobs but are equally as qualified) that he has committed the crime in question but refuses to plead guilty, then the Lawyer can no longer represent that client.

    This is absolutely non-negotiable and I have faith in my profession and my peers that we all stand by this rule. The public may think we are a waste of space but the vast majority of us do take our ethical responsibilities VERY seriously.

    In these situations the lawyer has to "withdraw" from the case. He cannot state his reason as that would be a breach of the client privilege rules. However, to seasoned professionals it is obvious what has happened though no-one can make the jury aware of their suspicions.

    Please don't believe all you see in television dramas. Lawyers may appear to be a bunch of egotistical maniacs at times (and ego is a problem I'll admit) but characters such as those depicted in drama are few and far between. We are generally a good bunch trying to do our best to ensure everyone in our society gets the legal representation that a free & democratic society needs in order to function properly.

    I know it can seem frustrating and difficult. It can seem like we have sold our souls to the devil but we are working with a system that has to allow everyone the right to representation. Without that, how many more Sally Clark's, Angela Cannings's, Derek Bentley's, Suzanne Holdsworth, Guildford 4's and Birmingham 6's would there be? Miscarriages of Justice occur even in the system we have, without that system and the right to be innocent until proven guilty would mean many, many more people convicted of crimes they did not commit.

    And if that system means we must offer a defence to the person whom you only suspect of guilt that is the price we pay for our values & beliefs. Our system hopefully ensures they are convicted in any event and we can sleep easy knowing they have been treated correctly. The alternative that some commentators imagine as preferable would in fact create a society of fear & terror.

    Sorry to be long-winded but I thought a view from the other side would be helpful. Please feel free to delete if you feel I've rambled too much!

    MD x

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  40. Modern Dilemma - Thank you very much for your comment. I really appreciate your other side and fully understand the need for you to explain. I wouldn't dream of deleting your comment. It is very healthy the create debate of this nature and again, I appreciate your explanation.

    Thanks, CJ xx

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