Thursday, May 8, 2008

Defending a Guilty Client

by Katherine Scardino

Based on my earlier articles and the replies by the readers, a number of you do not understand how a defense attorney can represent a client who they know is guilty. Since I am about to do just that, I thought I would share my feelings about it.

As I mentioned before, under our Constitution, anyone standing trial for a crime is entitled to certain rights, such as a fair and unbiased trial. We also possess the right to have evidence presented to the jury, as long as it is legally obtained--i.e., no busting down doors and searching your home without either consent or probable cause to do so. We also enjoy the right to have the jury only consider evidence that rises to the level of our standard of proof - beyond a reasonable doubt. Too, there is our right to be presumed innocent until a jury hears this type of evidence, believes it, and renders a verdict of guilty.

All of these constitutional protections have been around since the Constitution was written in the late 1700s. Do they apply to today’s way of living? We have so much more today than our forefathers ever even dreamed of - cell phones, faxes, the Internet. So, some of you say these rules are no longer applicable.

I am preparing for a trial defending a man accused of sexually assaulting his stepdaughter - not just once, but for years. There will be testimony from the accuser, pointing a finger at my client.

Some of you might question - How can you sit next to this person and defend him in a case like that? I will admit to you that these types of cases, those involving children, are the toughest for any defense lawyer - not just in the cold facts of the case, but emotionally as well. Most of us have children. We would want to string whoever harmed our child up by his toes, or by some other body part that is a bit more sensitive.

In defending this client, I am reminding myself of his rights as an accused citizen of the United States. I am looking at the evidence with a hard eye to see if it meets the standard we should expect. Did the State, in its eagerness to solve the crime, zero in on one person and fail to investigate any other evidence?

Generally, once a young person makes an accusation against an adult, there is no more investigation. No one calls the accused on the phone and asks whether you did this, or whether you might have a "story" to defend yourself. God forbid there should be an alibi or a reason for this accusation other than the truth of the matter - is there a divorce involved? Or a custody fight where it would be convenient for the father to have this hanging over his head, which would certainly chill the father’s effort to get custody of his children. No. It is straight to an indictment and trial.

So, I am putting my case together to present to a jury, and I will be honest with you, this one is hard. I will do my job to be best of my ability. I have to remind myself - I did not make the facts, I just work with them - and give him a constitutionally fair trial. That is all I can do.

6 comments:

A. said...

Thanks for writing about this Katherine. I appreciate your willingness to give us insight on your emotions, in the light of what you do.

You say:
"...We have so much more today than our forefathers ever even dreamed of - cell phones, faxes, the Internet. So, some of you say these rules are no longer applicable."

I've followed most of the discussions you refer to, and have never seen anyone (myself included) post that the "rules are no longer applicable". What has been taken issue of, is the seeming imbalance of rights towards an accused, vs the rights of victims.

I am of the opinion that each one of us has our own unique perspective to follow in this life. We see things differently. Sometimes this appears to contradict another, but most often we're all a piece of a larger picture.

Although I could never do what you do, or even see things the way that you see them, I admire and respect your willingness to follow your passion and to keep coming back here and enlightening us on your perspective.

Kathryn Casey said...

Very well stated, Katherine. With folks who've served decades in prison now being proven innocent by DNA, it should be obvious that the best possible defense is essential for our court system to work correctly.

Great defense attorneys are as key to the system as fair prosecutors. If good people didn't go into the field, we'd have an even bigger problem. Thanks for posting this.

Melissa said...

Actually, some of us can question your ethics. Googling your name and the case is pretty easy.

katherine scardino said...

A - thank you for your comment. Do I detect a softening? Just a bit?

A. said...

Lol. No softening. No notable personality changes of any type.

A. said...

Ok, I'll also add that since you put yourself out there as a person Katherine, I can see past your "defense attorney" hat...which may account for the bridging of the gap (so to speak).