moral issues with working criminal defense?

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AreJay711
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Re: moral issues with working criminal defense?

Postby AreJay711 » Thu Jan 27, 2011 7:26 pm

From what I understand most prosecutors throw the book at people accused hoping to strike a plea bargain. Even if someone is 100% guilty, a criminal defense attorney has the job of advising the accused so he or she doesn't get fucked over for more serious charges or take a worse deal than is usual or reasonable.

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bjsesq
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Re: moral issues with working criminal defense?

Postby bjsesq » Thu Jan 27, 2011 7:29 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.

Allowing a guilty to person to be convicted when the state cannot prove their case without proof beyond a reasonable doubt is not justice. Just imo, of course.

Aqualibrium
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Re: moral issues with working criminal defense?

Postby Aqualibrium » Thu Jan 27, 2011 7:35 pm

Didn't read the other posts, but IMO, the fact that you made a judgment that the defendant was a horrible person without ANY facts of the case at all means you shouldn't be working in criminal defense.

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vanwinkle
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Re: moral issues with working criminal defense?

Postby vanwinkle » Thu Jan 27, 2011 7:38 pm

If you have big moral problems that raise flags about being dedicated to either side fully then you shouldn't get involved in criminal law. On either side, whether it's prosecution or defense, employers are looking for people dedicated to the job and to upholding that side of the law.

Also, the notion that prosecutors can decline to prosecute people they think are innocent is very noble-sounding and makes for good episodes of Law & Order, but in truth a starting ADA gets very little control over those things and has to do what the District Attorney tells them to do. Given that many DAs are elected and keeping a high arrest-to-conviction rate makes them look good during the campaign, they're not exactly eager to decline pressing charges if they think there's any chance of winning (or convincing the guy to take a lesser sentence by pressuring him).

And a lot of defendants do. They'll take pleas even to things they know they didn't do because it's better than going to trial and running the risk of a harsher conviction with a much longer sentence. On the other hand, some of them have so many repeat offenses and there's so much evidence linking them to the crime that you can tell they must have done it, but you've still got to mount a defense for them. That defense can include getting evidence suppressed, keeping witnesses off the stand, impeaching those witnesses' credibility by dragging their entire past out in front of the jury, and fighting at every step to portray them in the best possible light and convince a jury they didn't see enough evidence to convict your client.

Criminal law is high stakes, you're talking about balancing one man's liberty with society's protection in each and every case, and both sides get very passionate about the morality of it. PDs look for very pro-defense people and DAs look for very pro-enforcement people. If you have serious issues with being on either side, then you're probably better off going and finding something better to do. Even in the world of public interest work there are plenty of ways to help people out on the civil side, and you will probably be a lot happier there.

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snowpeach06
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Re: moral issues with working criminal defense?

Postby snowpeach06 » Thu Jan 27, 2011 9:02 pm

Some people are just incredibly disadvantaged, and either have no choice but to submit to crime, aren't aware of legal alternatives or simply didn't do it. Similarly, some people are charged with ridiculous crimes by a trigger happy DA. I'd actually feel pretty good about myself.

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dr123
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Re: moral issues with working criminal defense?

Postby dr123 » Thu Jan 27, 2011 9:05 pm

NZA wrote:
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.



smears wrote:
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.



+1

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

Postby A'nold » Thu Jan 27, 2011 9:44 pm

Other25BeforeYou wrote:
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.


There wasn't really any reason for you to make assumptions on what I've dealt with in life. I grew up in a family full of criminals and lived in extreme poverty for most of my childhood. I chose to be a good person and not to, for example, rob and kill an innocent girl walking down the street for her iphone.

I have a lot more empathy towards the victim than I do for the gang member that shoots a cop and destroys that family due to an ultimate act of selfishness. People make choices in life.

I actually believe in mitigating circumstances, like the "friend raped your wife" thing or your family being tortured, mob thing. Nice straw man. Replace those examples with the Arizona killer that ruined many innocent lives, including an innocent 9 year old girl. Even President Obama said that sometimes people are just evil, and he is extremely liberal.

Also, I am just as hard on prosecutors that abuse their discretion. That's evil too and ruins many innocent lives (including the family of the accused).

By the way, the "uncontrollable urge to fondle children" thing is not a good example. Some people have an uncontrollable urge to be serial killers or canibals....how should we treat these people? Let them back out on the street b/c they "cannot help" their urges?

LogosEther
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Re: moral issues with working criminal defense?

Postby LogosEther » Fri Jan 28, 2011 12:02 am

Pro taking the job: What everyone else said about the importance of an adversarial system. This is for real. Lots of countries around the world don't give a crap about the accused. The government or political groups can run around accusing whomever they want. On a individual basis, criminal defense seems immoral, but overall, I think it's pretty legit.

Anti taking the job: There do arise conflicts of interest and ethical questions... http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2008/03/ ... 4719.shtml
Stories like the one I linked are really depressing. The worst thing is that from a purely legal ethics standpoint, those attorneys are pretty much correct. But I think it was morally wrong, nonetheless.

Conclusion: I would take it. It's for a couple of months. Since you're only doing research, might as well take the more prestigious job and use it as a learning experience. You will probably decide "I will never be a criminal defense lawyer", but it will be a cool life experience to see the insides of a criminal defense firm.

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swiftwings88
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Re: moral issues with working criminal defense?

Postby swiftwings88 » Fri Jan 28, 2011 12:06 am

If you get someone off the hook you spare them man's justice not God's justice. Might not be a popular sentiment around here as I consider it.

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Borhas
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Re: moral issues with working criminal defense?

Postby Borhas » Sat Jan 29, 2011 12:19 am

snowpeach06 wrote:Some people are just incredibly disadvantaged, and either have no choice but to submit to crime, aren't aware of legal alternatives or simply didn't do it.


whether you choose to be shit or your environment causes you to be shit, the end result is still the same isn't it?

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vanwinkle
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Re: moral issues with working criminal defense?

Postby vanwinkle » Sat Jan 29, 2011 12:29 am

Borhas wrote:
snowpeach06 wrote:Some people are just incredibly disadvantaged, and either have no choice but to submit to crime, aren't aware of legal alternatives or simply didn't do it.

whether you choose to be shit or your environment causes you to be shit, the end result is still the same isn't it?

Let's not get into an argument about politics and society in the on-topic forums. It's hard enough to stay on-topic without getting inflamed as it is.

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Borhas
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Re: moral issues with working criminal defense?

Postby Borhas » Sat Jan 29, 2011 10:07 am

I agree, let's not

Instead let's take what I said for granted and apply it to the topic. It's a reality of criminal defense. Say whatever you want about how your clients ended up the way they are, but the end result is the exact same thing no matter how you rationalize it. The "Law" is an inherently conflicted field, frankly most upstanding people don't get sued, or charged w/ crimes, cause usually just one party's common sense would be enough to prevent the need to litigate. W/ crime its even more stilted towards douchebaggery. Yes, there are innocent people and yes it's an immensely important role, but your client will be scum a lot of the time.

You can try to view yourself as a defender of ideals. But your client is not an ideal. Your client is someone charged w/ possession, or robbery, or drunk driving, rape, murder etc. It's a tough job, and in my opinion you can't detach yourself from the situation into the world of lofty ideals... at least not for long, instead it's probably better to view the situation as a fight against the government, not a fight for your client.

On the bright side, there's no bigger game in town than the government. And if you are fortunate enough to do federal PD work you regularly get the chance to take down the biggest game in the entire fucking world.


===

Prosecution side seems to have complementary problems. On the one hand you really don't have a client to advocate. You can think of the community in the abstract, or the government, but then again you are the government so its not quite the same thing. On the plus side you are invested with the power of society's wrath, on the downside the object of that wrath is often just some petty scum... not many opportunities to destroy a truly worthy adversary.

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Re: moral issues with working criminal defense?

Postby Omerta » Sat Jan 29, 2011 10:42 am

Borhas wrote:
You can try to view yourself as a defender of ideals. But your client is not an ideal. Your client is someone charged w/ possession, or robbery, or drunk driving, rape, murder etc. It's a tough job, and in my opinion you can't detach yourself from the situation into the world of lofty ideals... at least not for long, instead it's probably better to view the situation as a fight against the government, not a fight for your client.


In my mind there is a huge difference between doing an act and committing a crime. I'm sure that whoever you would be defending acted in some way-- some way that could be completely morally indefensible-- but did s/he commit a crime? The trial isn't determining if your client is a good or bad person; the justice system isn't based on Camus.

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Borhas
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Re: moral issues with working criminal defense?

Postby Borhas » Sat Jan 29, 2011 10:48 am

I strongly disagree with that assessment

crime and morality are inextricably linked, in how and why the criminal laws are created, and applied

criminal law, more so than any other specialization focused on the mind set of the criminal. Intentions, motivation, knowledge, mental states are all critical, and they are that way because we don't punish Acts or Actors, but Criminals... the Culpable, the Malicious... the immoral.

[rare exceptions include strict liability crimes, which IMO are just society's way of saying the bar for negligence is greatly lowered in certain instances]

TigerBeer
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Re: moral issues with working criminal defense?

Postby TigerBeer » Sat Jan 29, 2011 10:55 am

Borhas wrote:crime and morality are inextricably linked, in how and why the criminal laws are created, and applied


truth, the blacker you are the more immoral you are

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Borhas
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Re: moral issues with working criminal defense?

Postby Borhas » Sat Jan 29, 2011 10:58 am

could you delete your post before you shit can the whole thread

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Lwoods
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Re: moral issues with working criminal defense?

Postby Lwoods » Sat Jan 29, 2011 10:58 am

Borhas wrote:I...
You can try to view yourself as a defender of ideals. But your client is not an ideal. Your client is someone charged w/ possession, or robbery, or drunk driving, rape, murder etc. It's a tough job, and in my opinion you can't detach yourself from the situation into the world of lofty ideals... at least not for long, instead it's probably better to view the situation as a fight against the government, not a fight for your client.
...


Exactly. Criminal defense is about protecting citizens against the government. It's about holding our government to a high standard so that our constitutional rights aren't trampled upon. It's about making sure all the players (police, prosecutors, etc.) play by the rules. It's very important and honorable work, but you can't go in with the hope that all of your clients will be wrongly accused. Some will be guilty, but it's your job to assure that your client gets a fair trial. "Getting off on a technicality" could mean an acquittal because the defense saw that evidence obtained through an illegal search was excluded. That's protecting an individual's 4th amendment rights!

JJDancer
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Re: moral issues with working criminal defense?

Postby JJDancer » Sat Jan 29, 2011 11:01 am

I'm an 0L but I worked at the Public Defender's this summer and considered some of these same issues.
What it came down to for me was that in America, everyone has the right to an attorney. Even if they end up being punished/the are guilty, they still deserve to have their rights maintained/access to a fair and speedy trial etc etc.

Also, "Defending" someone doesn't always happen based on the specifics of the case. Sometimes it is about showing that the DAs office made some error like mishandled evidence/officer made a wrong arrest etc. So it can be on the basis of procedural things.

Not sure if that helps but I was in the Juvenile division so it was a lot easier to empathize with the clients since none of the cases were anything too heinous.

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romothesavior
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Re: moral issues with working criminal defense?

Postby romothesavior » Sat Jan 29, 2011 11:02 am

OP, I think your position is a reasonable one, and it is a view that I also share. I just couldn't handle dealing with the notion that the vast majority of my clients are guilty, and it would be my job to get them off the hook. I am very glad that there are people out there who will defend these folks and give them their day in court, because without them, the system couldn't function. I just know that I will not be one of them.

With that said, you could gain some great experience this summer (and get paid), so I would still consider doing a summer of it in the short term. It could give you some insight into the "other side" and give you something to talk about in a future interview (so long as you can spin it as "Although I enjoyed my summer and learned a lot, I know for sure I have no interest in defense work.")

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vanwinkle
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Re: moral issues with working criminal defense?

Postby vanwinkle » Sat Jan 29, 2011 12:12 pm

Lwoods wrote:Exactly. Criminal defense is about protecting citizens against the government. It's about holding our government to a high standard so that our constitutional rights aren't trampled upon. It's about making sure all the players (police, prosecutors, etc.) play by the rules. It's very important and honorable work, but you can't go in with the hope that all of your clients will be wrongly accused. Some will be guilty, but it's your job to assure that your client gets a fair trial. "Getting off on a technicality" could mean an acquittal because the defense saw that evidence obtained through an illegal search was excluded. That's protecting an individual's 4th amendment rights!

This is pretty close to the reality you see in many PD offices. The thing you have to understand is that the PDs are going to approach things from the POV of either 1) "he's innocent and there's another explanation of the crime" or 2) "he commit a bad act but there's no proof he intended to [bad felony goes here]". And they have to in order to give their client the best defense possible.

But they think about it in terms of upholding the system. It's not just "I'm going to try to keep this guy out of prison", it's "this guy will be convicted on inadmissible evidence, and if we let this happen then they'll keep trying to introduce inadmissible evidence and get people convicted unfairly". That's important, especially because the rules of evidence exist for a reason and usually the reason the rule is there to exclude the evidence is to deter the police/prosecution from doing something unfair to future defendants.

Cases are rarely that cut-and-dry that it's obvious someone did something but they "got off on a technicality". The "technicality" in cases that warrant overturning a conviction or dismissing charges against a highly publicized defendant usually is the dismissal of the only evidence/testimony connecting the defendant to the crime. Of course the prosecution will always call it a technicality and try to look good in the press, and the large pro-enforcement part of the public will eat that up, but if the guy was really guilty they should've had other evidence to convict him with anyway.

It's chess. The defendants, the victims, the prosecutors and the defendants are all pieces on the board. The winner or loser in the game is the American public, who (oddly enough) is playing both sides, with civil rights on the one and criminal enforcement on the other.

Anonymous Loser
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Re: moral issues with working criminal defense?

Postby Anonymous Loser » Sat Jan 29, 2011 12:54 pm

homestyle28 wrote: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.


I completely agree. I suspect that many of the posters in this thread have never set foot in a courtroom, and have little exposure to the actual practice of criminal litigation. It's messy, and lots of mistakes are made. These mistakes are often very difficult to fix: if trial or appellate counsel are ineffective, state habeas proceedings often provide the only avenue for relief, and the right to counsel typically does not attach in such proceedings. An incarcerated inmate litigating pro se has almost no chance of success.

Omerta
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Re: moral issues with working criminal defense?

Postby Omerta » Sat Jan 29, 2011 1:02 pm

Borhas wrote:I strongly disagree with that assessment

crime and morality are inextricably linked, in how and why the criminal laws are created, and applied

criminal law, more so than any other specialization focused on the mind set of the criminal. Intentions, motivation, knowledge, mental states are all critical, and they are that way because we don't punish Acts or Actors, but Criminals... the Culpable, the Malicious... the immoral.

[rare exceptions include strict liability crimes, which IMO are just society's way of saying the bar for negligence is greatly lowered in certain instances]


Hey bro, you just reiterated my argument so I'm sorry that you strongly disagree with yourself. We don't punish acts, we punish crimes. My client did an act that may not constitute a crime. Therefore, I will defend him on the grounds that he acted but did not commit a crime.

Listen, I'm glad you got an A in criminal law. You're still a one book scholar, albeit a better one than your peers, so calm down with the moral authority and random capitalization. I sincerely do not understand how a viewpoint that directly addresses the OP's concerns could derail the thread.
Last edited by Omerta on Sat Jan 29, 2011 1:06 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Borhas
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Re: moral issues with working criminal defense?

Postby Borhas » Sat Jan 29, 2011 1:03 pm

you're dumb

stop posting

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vanwinkle
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Re: moral issues with working criminal defense?

Postby vanwinkle » Sat Jan 29, 2011 1:04 pm

Anonymous Loser wrote:These mistakes are often very difficult to fix: if trial or appellate counsel are ineffective, state habeas proceedings often provide the only avenue for relief, and the right to counsel typically does not attach in such proceedings. An incarcerated inmate litigating pro se has almost no chance of success.

On top of that, ever since the federal courts said that procedural default is a valid reason to deny habeas relief, more states have been doing the same thing. "You have no right to competent counsel on appeal, but since your incompetent counsel on appeal could've raised this issue and didn't, you waived it. Habeas denied."

If you get convicted your life is pretty much fucked. Those few lucky enough to have DNA evidence exonerating them, and to be able to get a new proceeding that accepts that evidence, are probably outnumbered by the ones who get no chance at relief despite being innocent of the crime they were charged with. That makes giving people the best possible representation at the trial level even more important.

TigerBeer
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Re: moral issues with working criminal defense?

Postby TigerBeer » Sat Jan 29, 2011 1:31 pm

Borhas wrote:you're dumb

stop posting


concession accepted :)




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