How I Defend Killers and Still Sleep at Night
As a defence lawyer I am often asked how I cope with representing those defendants charged with the most serious crimes, in particular rapes and murders. Much of my work is with defendants facing the death penalty in Florida, so they are alleged to have committed the most heinous of murders.
For me, the answer is simple, I believe that everyone is entitled to a fair trial and that involves legal representation by a person committed to their case. In all my cases, it is not my role to judge the guilt or innocence of my client, that is for the magistrates or jury. My role is to review the evidence and to advise my client on the evidence as it stands. I will often advise a client that based on the evidence, I consider that a jury will find them guilty, however the decision remains theirs as to whether they plead guilty or take the case to trial. They have a right to a trial, even if the evidence is stacked up against them, and I can quote many high profile cases where the media portrayal of the evidence was such that it was assumed that the defendant would be found guilty, yet the jury found otherwise.
I believe very strongly that a client should have the right over their own destiny, and if they want to take their case to trial, even with the odds stacked against them, that is their decision. Who am I to dictate to them how they should behave, if I have advised them of the consequences as I see them, it is up to the client to decide how to deal with those consequences.
Nowadays I choose to act solely for the defence, however in the past I have prosecuted and defended, and as such I am fully aware that not all my clients are innocent, and that in many cases there is a victim involved. The impact of the crime on the victim should not be ignored. I know of some lawyers who will always try to justify their client’s offending, and will try to vilify the victim. That is not a practice I admire. For one, the fact that there is a victim means that as well as the defendant, there is at least one other person whose life has been affected by the crime (and I put in this manner as it is rare for false accusations to be made in court, so there has usually been a crime committed, what is questionable is whether my client committed the offence). Secondly, to ignore the impact on the victim means that the feelings and empathy of the jury is also being ignored, and this is dangerous, a lack of understanding of the jury means that a defendant may not be receiving the best advice on how the evidence against him or her is going to be perceived by the jury.
I can sleep at night as I know I give my clients the best representation that I can, and I hope that this results in them receiving a fair trial if they decide to plead not guilty, or a fair sentencing hearing if they decide to plead guilty. I am not perfect and they may be cases where I have misjudged the impact of evidence, or miscalculated a jury, however I always fight for my client no matter who they are or their alleged offense. If that means I earn some bad publicity on the way, due to the offences charged, then so be it, this is the profession I have chosen, and I consider myself to be fortunate to be able to do a job I love.