moral issues with working criminal defense?

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imisscollege
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moral issues with working criminal defense?

Postby imisscollege » Thu Jan 27, 2011 1:45 pm

I am a 1L and have a pretty solid chance of getting a paying 1L summer job with a criminal defense firm. I was told that there would be a lot of research/prep leading up to a case taking place at the end of June. When I asked what that was, he said it was a rape case without changing the tone of his voice or anything. I didn't really react but after I got off the phone I thought about it a little bit more. I also have aps into prosecutor's offices but those obviously wouldn't pay. Anyway long story short I'm not sure I will be able to do this and feel okay about myself. Has anybody else ever felt this way?

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Shooter
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Re: moral issues with working criminal defense?

Postby Shooter » Thu Jan 27, 2011 1:52 pm

imisscollege wrote:Has anybody else ever felt this way?


As a 0L, I have no experience in this whatsoever. But I can't imagine you're the only one.

FWIW - If this is going to adversely affect your self-concept, I would advise against it. Defending a rapist just sounds horrible.

beaniew
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Re: moral issues with working criminal defense?

Postby beaniew » Thu Jan 27, 2011 1:55 pm

If you were charged with a serious crime, irrespective of guilt or innocence, would you want the best possible representation? Not only is it important for excellent counsel to be available for the accused, it is required for our adversarial system to function properly. Guilt should be determined by a neutral factfinder only after the respective adversaries put on their strongest cases. It should not be determined by a half-hearted defense counsel.

If you can't put aside your judgements to do you best work even for cases with the most difficult subject matter, criminal defense work is not right for you, or for your future clients.

I have worked on these difficult cases, and I sleep very well at night. In fact, I felt good about helping people when they needed help the most.

imisscollege
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Re: moral issues with working criminal defense?

Postby imisscollege » Thu Jan 27, 2011 1:55 pm

Yeah I mean the thing is 1. I wouldn't be literally defending him and 2. it would only be for 2 months and i'd get paid and it'd be good mentoring and chances are i'd have an interesting interview perspective going for prosecutors' jobs for the summer after. but yeah...it does sound horrible doesn't it?

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NZA
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Re: moral issues with working criminal defense?

Postby NZA » Thu Jan 27, 2011 1:56 pm

imisscollege wrote:I am a 1L and have a pretty solid chance of getting a paying 1L summer job with a criminal defense firm. I was told that there would be a lot of research/prep leading up to a case taking place at the end of June. When I asked what that was, he said it was a rape case without changing the tone of his voice or anything. I didn't really react but after I got off the phone I thought about it a little bit more. I also have aps into prosecutor's offices but those obviously wouldn't pay. Anyway long story short I'm not sure I will be able to do this and feel okay about myself. Has anybody else ever felt this way?


Just remember: everyone has the right to competent counsel, even alleged rapists. You're not just helping the person you'll be defending, but also society in general.

katjust
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Re: moral issues with working criminal defense?

Postby katjust » Thu Jan 27, 2011 1:56 pm

If you have moral qualms about it don't do it. However, all you are doing as a lawyer defending someone accused of rape is putting on the best possible case that the accused person has. The idea is that in the end the better argument will prevail, and it should. Besides, maybe the accused is innocent.

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smears
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Re: moral issues with working criminal defense?

Postby smears » Thu Jan 27, 2011 2:00 pm

I have a moral issue w/ assuming someone is guilty before they get a fair trial.

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Paichka
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Re: moral issues with working criminal defense?

Postby Paichka » Thu Jan 27, 2011 2:02 pm

On the one hand, I can see where you're coming from. On the other hand, though, you know NOTHING about this case. It's entirely possible (indeed, our system is at least in theory built around the idea that until conviction the guy is) that the guy is innocent.

If it helps, think about it this way -- you aren't defending a rapist. You ARE playing a constitutionally required role by ensuring that the government is put to its proof, plays by the rules, and actually has the evidence to convict this guy and tack him with the "sex offender" label for the rest of his life. If he's guilty and they didn't violate his constitutional rights to get the evidence proving his guilt, then a jury of his peers will most likely convict him. My crim pro professor gave us an interesting statistic the other day:

One recent year, there were 76,827 defendants in federal criminal court; of those, 66,103 pled guilty or nolo contendere. Of those that went to trial:
- 2,851 were convicted
□ Within that 2,851, 2,259 were convicted by juries, 592 by bench trial
- 700+ had cases dismissed
- 723 were acquitted

I feel you, though...as a JAG, I'm having heartburn with the idea that I might one day be assigned to defend a guy accused of, say, raping a kid. That's why I KNOW I have to work doing defense this summer -- I need that perspective to balance out my natural "hammer the perv" tendencies.

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MattThiessen
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Re: moral issues with working criminal defense?

Postby MattThiessen » Thu Jan 27, 2011 2:03 pm

smears wrote:I have a moral issue w/ assuming someone is guilty before they get a fair trial.


+1. Unless you talked to the accused and they said "Yeah, I am totally guilty."

CanadianWolf
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Re: moral issues with working criminal defense?

Postby CanadianWolf » Thu Jan 27, 2011 2:04 pm

Seems as if you have prejudged & convicted the firm's client before knowing any facts & circumstances of the case. Criminal defense may not be your best career path. Besides, a primary function of a criminal defense lawyer is to protect the client's Constitutional rights in addition to providing a zealous defense. If that is too much for you, then seek prosecutorial work if you want to practice in the realm of criminal law.
There are, nevertheless, successful criminal defense attorneys who refuse certain types of cases.
Last edited by CanadianWolf on Thu Jan 27, 2011 2:07 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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emilybeth
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Re: moral issues with working criminal defense?

Postby emilybeth » Thu Jan 27, 2011 2:06 pm

imisscollege wrote: and chances are i'd have an interesting interview perspective going for prosecutors' jobs for the summer after.


Yeah, one that (in some DA's offices) will immediately disqualify you.

Of course it varies amongst counties, but a lot of prosecutor's offices see a huge red flag when they see a student with recent criminal defense experience. One of the things they're looking for is commitment to prosecution, above both defense work and firm work. These jobs are hella competitive in this economy. I would be wary of doing anything defense-oriented if I was serious about working in a DA's office.

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smears
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Re: moral issues with working criminal defense?

Postby smears » Thu Jan 27, 2011 2:07 pm

MattThiessen wrote:
smears wrote:I have a moral issue w/ assuming someone is guilty before they get a fair trial.


+1. Unless you talked to the accused and they said "Yeah, I am totally guilty."


In that case I have a moral issue with seeing them sentenced unfairly.

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homestyle28
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Re: moral issues with working criminal defense?

Postby homestyle28 » Thu Jan 27, 2011 2:08 pm

If you've ever sat in a trial while an overworked/underpaid (and maybe incompetent) PD defended someone, you could easily convince yourself that you have a moral obligation to go into defense.

imisscollege
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Re: moral issues with working criminal defense?

Postby imisscollege » Thu Jan 27, 2011 2:10 pm

emilybeth wrote:
imisscollege wrote: and chances are i'd have an interesting interview perspective going for prosecutors' jobs for the summer after.


Yeah, one that (in some DA's offices) will immediately disqualify you.

Of course it varies amongst counties, but a lot of prosecutor's offices see a huge red flag when they see a student with recent criminal defense experience. One of the things they're looking for is commitment to prosecution, above both defense work and firm work. These jobs are hella competitive in this economy. I would be wary of doing anything defense-oriented if I was serious about working in a DA's office.


That's interesting. I have actually heard otherwise. I heard that PD offices won't want you if you have been on the other side but that vice versa that is not the case. I mean if I get a DA job, I'd still probably choose it but this just seems to be a much more sure bet and a backup plan. I'm just deciding if it is something I'd do.

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savagedm
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Re: moral issues with working criminal defense?

Postby savagedm » Thu Jan 27, 2011 2:54 pm

I just had a meeting with a former defense attorney last night and we talked about this same issue. She shed some really good light on this kind of work for me which made it seem less dubious.

When someone is in front of a judge facing criminal charges, they have no friends, everyone in that room automatically assumes they got caught red handed and are as guilty as the day is long. Furthermore, victims are almost always never satisfied with the "justice" dolled out if it stops short of anything other than the death penalty. With that being said, you are that individual's only chance at ensuring the punishment they receive (if they are guilty) is not excessive and you are the only person they have left they can trust; everyone else could be called to testify.

As a defense attorney you are simply taking it upon yourself to handle the difficult task of ensuring the fundamental fairness we strive for in our justice system. It's not perfect, it doesn't always work, but it's way better than leaving the accused with no ability to account for themselves.

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A'nold
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Re: moral issues with working criminal defense?

Postby A'nold » Thu Jan 27, 2011 2:57 pm

After weighing all sides to this argument for at least two years, I've come to the conclusion that I only completely understand the "protecting our constitutional rights" argument. The whole "D's getting of on technicalities" things is definitely cliche and overused, but it does happen. In order to hold the gov. accountable, we have to do these sorts of things.
However, one thing that I just could not bring myself to do is argue for a child molester or a violent criminal that is bound to get out of jail and hurt more innocent people in the future to try to get them less time. Arguing innocent/guilt is an essential part of our system. I just have a huge problem trying to get the Arizona Shooters of this society a reduced sentence. I think defense attorneys sometimes have this (foreign to me) ability to empathize more with violent, evil minded defendants than with innocent victims. I don't know where this mentality came from, but I've been interested in this for the longest time.

sophie316
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Re: moral issues with working criminal defense?

Postby sophie316 » Thu Jan 27, 2011 3:25 pm

imisscollege wrote:Yeah I mean the thing is 1. I wouldn't be literally defending him and 2. it would only be for 2 months and i'd get paid and it'd be good mentoring and chances are i'd have an interesting interview perspective going for prosecutors' jobs for the summer after. but yeah...it does sound horrible doesn't it?


Sounds like criminal defense is probably not for you if this is how you think. Also be aware that if you're applying to the DA in the district where you work as a defender you may well have to get any clients whose cases you work on to sign a release due to conflicts issues. This can be very hard to get and I've seen people have to turn down DA jobs because of it.

imisscollege
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Re: moral issues with working criminal defense?

Postby imisscollege » Thu Jan 27, 2011 3:57 pm

sophie316 wrote:
imisscollege wrote:Yeah I mean the thing is 1. I wouldn't be literally defending him and 2. it would only be for 2 months and i'd get paid and it'd be good mentoring and chances are i'd have an interesting interview perspective going for prosecutors' jobs for the summer after. but yeah...it does sound horrible doesn't it?


Sounds like criminal defense is probably not for you if this is how you think. Also be aware that if you're applying to the DA in the district where you work as a defender you may well have to get any clients whose cases you work on to sign a release due to conflicts issues. This can be very hard to get and I've seen people have to turn down DA jobs because of it.


I mean I know in the long run it's not. The thread is not about what I should do with my JD; it's about whether, in the absence of any other offer in the criminal law field for my 1L summer, I would be able to feel okay taking this position.

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A'nold
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Re: moral issues with working criminal defense?

Postby A'nold » Thu Jan 27, 2011 4:47 pm

I think I could be a defense attorney in a less adversarial, winner takes all type system. I would also feel more comfortable as a prosecutor there as well, where both sides try to bring the fairest case to the judge and all parties involved, prosecution and defense, try to get to the real facts of what happened and both sides to try to agree on what would be the best sentence/punishment for the crime at hand, taking society's needs into account the entire time.

However, I could not go completely gung-ho when I just knew that my talent and drive would be used at times to do what I think is morally wrong for the situation. I understand that this is the system we have and that there is a vital role for PD's, I just could not represent some clients to the full extent guaranteed by the Constitution as it stands. Note that another reason I like prosecution as a possible career more than defense is because of prosecutorial discretion. Sure, there are pressures to convict and throw the book at suspects. However, you have a lot more power in righting wrongs such as lowering harsh charges through plea agreements, etc. than do defense attorneys.

Edit: this is such a heated debate topic I'm surprised that more people are not posting in this thread.

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Iconoclast
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Re: moral issues with working criminal defense?

Postby Iconoclast » Thu Jan 27, 2011 5:30 pm

If you win your case as a defense attorney, you have either (1) prevented an innocent person from going to jail for a crime they did not commit; or (2) helped a guilty person escape punishment for their crime.

If you win your case as a prosecutor, you have either (1) put a guilty person in jail to pay for their crime; or (2) put an innocent person in jail for a crime they did not commit.

When you boil it down to the nuts and bolts, there really isn't as much of a difference between the two as it seems at first glance. Either side can cause or prevent injustice.

imisscollege
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Re: moral issues with working criminal defense?

Postby imisscollege » Thu Jan 27, 2011 5:32 pm

Iconoclast wrote:If you win your case as a defense attorney, you have either (1) prevented an innocent person from going to jail for a crime they did not commit; or (2) helped a guilty person escape punishment for their crime.

If you win your case as a prosecutor, you have either (1) put a guilty person in jail to pay for their crime; or (2) put an innocent person in jail for a crime they did not commit.

When you boil it down to the nuts and bolts, there really isn't as much of a difference between the two as it seems at first glance. Either side can cause or prevent injustice.


as a prosecutor if you think somebody's not guilty, you can decide not to prosecute them (lack of evidence or something). if you turned down every guilty person from hiring you for your services as a defense attorney, you'd be on food stamps.

sophie316
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Re: moral issues with working criminal defense?

Postby sophie316 » Thu Jan 27, 2011 6:04 pm

imisscollege wrote:
Iconoclast wrote:If you win your case as a defense attorney, you have either (1) prevented an innocent person from going to jail for a crime they did not commit; or (2) helped a guilty person escape punishment for their crime.

If you win your case as a prosecutor, you have either (1) put a guilty person in jail to pay for their crime; or (2) put an innocent person in jail for a crime they did not commit.

When you boil it down to the nuts and bolts, there really isn't as much of a difference between the two as it seems at first glance. Either side can cause or prevent injustice.


as a prosecutor if you think somebody's not guilty, you can decide not to prosecute them (lack of evidence or something). if you turned down every guilty person from hiring you for your services as a defense attorney, you'd be on food stamps.


Well on the other hand, if there's that strong evidence your client is guilty, as a PD you're probably going to be advising them to take a plea deal rather than going to trial. There's always going to be some cases at the extremes ie obviously innocent people DAs prosecute and obviously guilty people that go to trial anyway but for the most part, the system weeds these out.

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A'nold
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Re: moral issues with working criminal defense?

Postby A'nold » Thu Jan 27, 2011 6:25 pm

sophie316 wrote:
imisscollege wrote:
Iconoclast wrote:If you win your case as a defense attorney, you have either (1) prevented an innocent person from going to jail for a crime they did not commit; or (2) helped a guilty person escape punishment for their crime.

If you win your case as a prosecutor, you have either (1) put a guilty person in jail to pay for their crime; or (2) put an innocent person in jail for a crime they did not commit.

When you boil it down to the nuts and bolts, there really isn't as much of a difference between the two as it seems at first glance. Either side can cause or prevent injustice.


as a prosecutor if you think somebody's not guilty, you can decide not to prosecute them (lack of evidence or something). if you turned down every guilty person from hiring you for your services as a defense attorney, you'd be on food stamps.


Well on the other hand, if there's that strong evidence your client is guilty, as a PD you're probably going to be advising them to take a plea deal rather than going to trial. There's always going to be some cases at the extremes ie obviously innocent people DAs prosecute and obviously guilty people that go to trial anyway but for the most part, the system weeds these out.


But see this is where I have the biggest problem, actually. The "hold the state accountable" argument is logically sound, at least to me. However, trying to get a DA to to a lesser charge or to drop some charges for somebody that is admittedly guilty when I personally think this person is a danger to society and, say, innocent children does not really serve any "checks or balance" function and is instead advocating for an individual. This is the moral side that would prevent me from ever becoming a PD. This kind of thing touches on what I mentioned above as not understanding the empathy many PD's feel for criminals that hurt innocent people. Drugs, sure. White-collar crime? Meh. Violent criminals- I have a big problem with advocating for a lesser or less harsh sentence.

Some people might respond with "rehabilitation." There are at least two problems there: 1. Rehabilitation has been shown to be largely ineffective and 2. the person might not want to rehabilitate. What is the point in reducing a sentence for somebody that openly admits that he will go, say, back to his street gang when he is released from prison? Who cares that that person had a horrible life or is a "product of his/her environment" if he/she is not remorseful and their entire existence will be dedicated to tearing down our social fabric?

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Borhas
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Re: moral issues with working criminal defense?

Postby Borhas » Thu Jan 27, 2011 7:13 pm

smears wrote:I have a moral issue w/ assuming someone is guilty before they get a fair trial.


are beliefs about a person's guilt always "assumptions" before that person gets a fair trial?

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Other25BeforeYou
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Re: moral issues with working criminal defense?

Postby Other25BeforeYou » Thu Jan 27, 2011 7:24 pm

A'nold wrote:But see this is where I have the biggest problem, actually. The "hold the state accountable" argument is logically sound, at least to me. However, trying to get a DA to to a lesser charge or to drop some charges for somebody that is admittedly guilty when I personally think this person is a danger to society and, say, innocent children does not really serve any "checks or balance" function and is instead advocating for an individual. This is the moral side that would prevent me from ever becoming a PD. This kind of thing touches on what I mentioned above as not understanding the empathy many PD's feel for criminals that hurt innocent people. Drugs, sure. White-collar crime? Meh. Violent criminals- I have a big problem with advocating for a lesser or less harsh sentence.

People tend to act in what seems at the time to be a rational manner. Yes, there are times when it seems absolutely rational, based on prior experiences, to murder someone. People very, VERY seldom break the law because they're trying to be evil - they usually break the law because their acts seem rational at the time, either due to the circumstance, their experience, or mental illness, or some combination of the three.

Lucky for you, you have apparently never yet had the overwhelming and uncontrollable compulsion to fondle children, you've likely never been in fear of having your wife and children tortured by a druglord if you don't murder a witness, you've likely never found out that an old friend raped your wife and therefore felt rationally compelled to murder him, and you've likely never been so strung out and addicted to drugs and so broke that it seemed like your only option was robbery. Lucky you.




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