I have a confession to make, I enjoy the practice of Criminal Defense. As a Raleigh Criminal Lawyer and Durham Criminal Lawyer in North Carolina, I represent those charged with a crime, whether it’s North Carolina Traffic Cases, North Carolina DWI Defense, North Carolina Misdemeanor cases or North Carolina Felony cases. As per the explanation I have heard from many people, I defend the ‘scum of the earth.’ Since deciding this was my area of practice as an attorney, I have heard from friends, family and even total strangers that my chosen profession is ‘wrong,’ ‘despicable,’ I’ve even been told what I do is “what’s wrong with America.” I try to have a legitimate discussion with these individuals to explain my decision to practice criminal defense. Sometimes, these discussion go well, other times they do not. In either case, publishing an article which conveys the rational of this Criminal Defense Attorney might provide some insight to those who otherwise do not understand, and certainly do not approve of, defending the accused.
I have known that I wanted to be a Criminal Defense Attorney ever since I took criminal law and evidence in law school. However, I didn’t know why this profession was so important until I studied Constitutional Law. It is the Constitution which provides every one of us the freedoms which we enjoy today. Most people take these freedoms for granted, mainly due to the fact that they are not faced with a situation where these rights would protect them. Nevertheless, these rights remain available should they be needed. Examples of these rights include the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and due process, the Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable searches and seizures and the Sixth Amendment right to counsel.
These Constitutional Rights were designed, and are upheld, in an attempt to ensure that innocent people are not convicted as a result of forced confessions, lack of legal representation or lack of due process. And though our system is imperfect, in that innocent people are still convicted, these Constitutional Rights are the best balance of providing protections to those accused while at the same time not overly limiting the Government’s attempt to identify, arrest and ultimately prosecute those who are criminally responsible.
The beauty of these rights and how they are applied today is that not only are they the result of the brilliant minds of our forefathers who draft the Constitution, but they are applied as a result of centuries of caselaw precedent. What this means is, since their inception these rights have been argued in countless trials where a ruling was made as to exactly how they should be applied given certain facts. These rulings have been evaluated by higher appellate courts, including the Supreme Court of the United States. That means that an unimaginable number of legal scholars, from Defense Attorneys and government Prosecutors to Judges throughout the court system have come together to make a determination in exactly how they should be applied. And though occasionally precedents are overturned when given new facts, that should only provide greater comfort in knowing that, though not common, they can be overturned if circumstances have been changed since the precedent was set. As an example, think of how the internet has changed countless laws with regards to copyright, defamation, libel, Fifth Amendment, harassment, etc.
I mention these rights as they are what a Defense Attorney is truly defending. In my numerous discussions with those that have a problem with Criminal Defense, the other party normally falls into one of two categories: 1. they feel too many rights are given in our system and Criminal Defendants should have less protection or 2. they feel the rights are adequate and should be upheld, unless the Criminal Defendant is ‘obviously guilty.’
As for the first category, these people normally hold this perception because they believe they would never face criminal prosecution and therefore the limitation of these rights would never apply to them. However, too many times innocent people are suspected of crimes and without these rights in place, they could face prosecution and ultimately conviction without these safeguards in place. A simple matter of ‘wrong place, wrong time’ can result in an innocent person being accused of crime. And as careful and lawful as one can attempt to live their life, there is ALWAYS the chance of a mistake identification or chance encounter which can turn a person’s life upside down. As example, would you really feel comfortable if an Officer had the right to stop you on the highway solely because you look suspicious, search your car because he/she feels like it, and arrest you without first having established Probable Cause?
As for the second category, this idea of different standards for different people is a narrow, and more importantly incorrect view. These Constitutional Rights work only if EVERYONE is afforded the same protection. These rights are given to us by the Judicial Branch and limit the function of the Executive and Legislative Branches of our government in their handling of Americans. If the Government could all-of-a-sudden make their own determination of what rights are given to what Defendants, than the power of determining what limitations could potentially prohibit the prosecution of the Defendant is given to the same government entity who’s job it is to prosecute the Defendant. In other words, the Prosecutors would be permitted to determine what Rights, and more specifically what potential problems with their case there are and whether they would permit the Defendant to utilize them. Though most people cannot imagine themselves in a place where they could potentially face criminal prosecution, in the oft chance that you are, would you really like that kind of power to be held by those entrusted with your prosecution?
As mentioned before, everyone sharing the exact same rights as everyone else is the only truly fair way to ensure our system is operating as effectively as possible. Do guilty Criminal Defendants get off as a result of these Constitutional Rights? Absolutely. But the second that our system overlooks a misstep by the Government (whether in the Police’s attempt to gather evidence or with the Prosecutor’s handling of the case) in order to convict an ‘obvious’ guilty Defendant, than forever will the same opportunity to ‘overlook’ these mistakes be available to those who are not so obviously guilty.
Though this discussion has many more facets and areas which can be debated, this was simply a taste of what justification I have, to do what I do with my head held high.