A'nold wrote:From a macro perspective, this makes perfect sense. Justice is more likely to be done when you have two sides presenting the best case and hopefully something in the middle will best represent true justice. In a truly efficient system, there would be no need for this and the sentences would be perfectly just every time. I understand that this is idealistic.
This is exactly the problem, that a perfect system is idealistic. In the real system that we have now, you have biased police, biased prosecutors, biased judges, biased juries, and, yes, biased public defenders. Everyone brings their own slanted views into the room, and you need a way to cancel them out in a manner that's fair to everyone involved.
A'nold wrote:It does seem like a less adversarial system and more cooperative system would better serve true justice. However, and I think this gets at the heart of my question, this cannot work, at least in our society, where there are vast differences in ideals.
A'nold wrote:It's just that, with the two sides of the adversarial system, I cannot understand the gung-ho pro-defense stance. I understand everything you have said and am grateful for you shedding some more light on the subject, but I can never take that final step where I would want to be a strong advocate for, as someone said above, "scum."
Most successful public defenders are people who do not regard their clients as "scum" no matter what they have done. They regard them as human beings with rights worth defending, because all
of us are human beings with rights worth defending. They would defend you too, even if you were brought in on rape or murder charges and everyone else in the world hated you.
You see things right now from the POV of omnipresent knowledge. You know you're innocent, you know you're morally upright and clean. However, imagine that you've been arrested anyway, because the police have two witnesses willing to testify they saw you running from the scene, and one who says he heard you making an offhand comment about how the victim "was an evil person and deserved to die".
Wouldn't you want as your advocate someone who fought for you, even if you had no
way of proving to them that none of that was true? The prosecution has witnesses showing you were there and witnesses showing motive, who don't appear to know each other or have a known motive to lie. In your world, the public defender should look all of that and tell you, "Well, if your guilt were really at issue then I'd defend you harder, but since they've got a lot of evidence that says you did it, I'm only going to help you plea to avoid the death penalty."
Maybe in the course of the investigation or trial, it'll come out why the witnesses each had a motive to lie, or that they all knew each other and could've conspired to lie about you, or that only one of them lied and the others said what they did after a little encouragement from the police. Or maybe you don't get any proof like that at all, and it's just a question of, do you deserve to go to jail for decades and possibly the rest of your life on the testimony of three witnesses and no evidence?
Things like this aren't that common, but they do happen, and because they do happen, that means that it's hard to summarily judge someone as "scum" before you even know all the facts. And if those people weren't there standing by their clients and defending them, innocent people who got stuck in that situation would end up getting convicted over and over again. It still happens, but it happens less because public defenders refuse to judge their clients as "scum" and actually keep digging.
Also, if someone really is guilty, and tells the public defender that, it does tie their hands ethically. They have obligations to the profession, and that includes preventing their client from lying under oath, for example. You can't let a defendant take the stand and testify that he was never there if he bluntly told you that he was and you know that to be true. So there are limits on what they can do for the ones they do truly know are guilty.
A'nold wrote:I can be an advocate for our rights as citizens of the country and states, but not empathize with a rapist, child-molester, serial killer more than with the victims enough to where I could give 100% effort to advocate for them.
Then you shouldn't be a public defender, end of story. Especially since you would treat them as a "rapist" or a "serial killer" from the get-go instead of as a "suspected rapist" or "the accused". Until they're convicted they're still presumed to be innocent under our legal system, and it sounds like you would fail at that.
A'nold wrote:However, I feel like on the side of prosecution you have more power to bring true justice to the situation (as close as possible, of course) through prosecutorial discretion.
"Prosecutorial discretion" is less discretionary than you think. District Attorneys remain popular based on their conviction rate, and that's especially true in places where they're elected (which is a lot of places). On top of that, if they dropped charges against someone and they hurt someone else, that comes back on the DA's office in a really bad way, so that combined with their enforcement mentality leads to erring on the side of prosecution. If evidence is really weak or contradictory, they won't drop the charges, they'll just push for a plea on a lesser charge to get the conviction.
I'm not saying they never drop charges, I'm just saying they're biased the other way, and that they're supposed
to be. Their job is to get more convictions, their success is measured by conviction rate, so they're going to try to convict as much as they can.
Prosecutors thus do not use that kind of power and discretion in a "true justice" way, which is just one more reason the PDs have to be so gung-ho about defending everything. And working as a prosecutor, you don't get to make those calls in most cases, you'd need the DA's permission to drop a case, and he won't do that because it'll hurt his conviction rate and potentially put a guilty man out on the street and create a political nightmare for him. He'll tell you to offer a misdemeanor with a short sentence instead.
And many defendants will take that to avoid the risk of a felony conviction, even if they didn't do it. After all, six months in jail and then getting free is a lot better than six months in jail awaiting trial and then five to ten years serving your sentence. Congratulations, you just convinced someone completely innocent of the charges to accept a conviction because it would get them out of jail faster. Good job.