A common question I hear that ultimately leads to debates is the issue of working on a criminal case where I either know or suspect that the client is guilty. The argument goes like this; How can you sleep at night if you get someone off who is guilty of some terrible crime? How is that just under a system of justice?
Because we don’t teach civics anymore, I think most people outside of that system misinterpret the job lawyers and investigators do. We don’t “get them off” when cases go well for our clients. When that happens, the prosecution has either done something wrong, failed to do their job, or someone involved with the arrest made a mistake sufficiently egregious to fail in proving guilt or otherwise violated constitutional rights, rules and regulations that are a necessary component to our legal systems integrity. Just because a person is arrested for a crime they definitely committed does not in any way mean that the rules of justice and fairness in adjudicating the matter are somehow less important, relaxed, or to be dispensed with.
We begin with the premise that innocence is a given in the absence of PROOF to the contrary. In other words, all people accused of crimes are innocent, that is the assumption from the start. It is the duty of the state to PROVE guilt. There is no obligation for the defendant to assist the state in making their case. The defendant can remain silent during the entire process if he or she so chooses. The burden is entirely on the state to prove guilt.
In doing so, the state has an obligation to act within the parameters of the law and the requirements of our constitution. Serious deviations from those rules, laws or constitutional guarantees can result in otherwise guilty people being set free. The reason this is so is to set such a high standard on the state in order to insure strict compliance with the letter of the law and the bounds of the constitution. If serious breeches of the law were allowed, the system would have no incentives to preserve these rights. The penalty for violating these provisions needs to be extraordinarily high in order to act as sufficient incentive for the state to use the utmost care in making criminal prosecutions.
When viewed through the lens of distortion that outlines a defendant that the public deems to be obviously guilty, these safeguards seem barriers to justice, simply slowing down an inevitable process. When applied to others who may well be innocent of wrongdoing, or to you personally, those same safeguards and guarantees may well be your last resort to continued freedom.
Remember the last sentence of the Declaration of Independence which ushered in our Constitution. “And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.”
That doesn’t sound like a “technicality” to me.