I wrote a few weeks ago about the way defense attorneys are perceived, and how, when talking with friends who haven’t got any firsthand experience with the justice system, the argument has come up that a defense attorney shouldn’t try to “get his guy off”, but get him a light sentence, if he knows that he’s guilty. This first came up when talking about Roman Polanski, whose guilt isn’t really in question, but variations come from lots of people – basically, “is it right to get a guilty person off”? It’s a boring question for attorneys, but fascinating for us non-lawyers, who are afforded the luxury of talking about things like this in the abstract.
The answers include “the Constitution says it is” and “someone has to”, but sometimes an anecdote is more helpful than a fact.
During the closed-door session in which the 13-member commission debated what sanction it should give Sharon Keller, presiding judge of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, one non-lawyer member of the commission opined that Keller should be commended for saving the state money by blocking the appeal.
When you’ve got people in government arguing that a judge is a hero for executing a guy and saving money, rather than allowing an appeal (and basing that decision on an administrative snafu, as in Keller’s case), then you get an idea of how extreme the biases are against defendants. Remember, Keller denied an appeal because a man’s attorney was having technical trouble with the equipment needed to send it to the court, and did so very callously. Suggesting that she be commended for her callousness because it saved a few bucks gives you an even better idea of what a defendant is up against. Everyone else is eager to judge, condemn, and (if it’s cost-effective) execute without a second thought. With that in mind, fellow non-lawyer friends debating at parties and on message boards, do you understand why the Constitution mandates that there be at least one person in the process whose role is to do none of those things?