Television programs love to portray criminal defense attorneys as ruthless thugs that will lie, cheat and steel to help their client beat the crimes they commit. On the other hand, television has a tendency to hold prosecuting attorneys out as moral and ethical giants that are beyond reproach! It is so cliché, yet it has become standard for the general public to believe any person accused of a crime must be guilty by default. And their lawyer must also be a scumbag for defending them! So, what ever happened to the standard of presumed innocence until proven guilty? A pop cultural example of the portrayal of a criminal defense attorney as morally bankrupt is the character Mickey Haller from the book, which became a hit movie, The Lincoln Lawyer. In the book Haller’s ex-wife, an assistant district attorney chastises him for representing alleged criminals and asks him, “[w]hy does it have to be you?” That is a question that I am sure attorneys are asked on a daily basis. The answer isn’t always easy because, quite frankly the job of an attorney is not that easy! Sure, many lawyers can hand pick their clients, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are going to be a “good client” to represent.
I will admit that I used to believe these myths myself! But, the truth is that a criminal defense attorney is bound by the canons of ethics to represent their client by providing legal counsel and a vigorous defense against charges brought against them. There is no requirement that the attorney share their client’s beliefs, ideals or opinions. Criminal defense attorneys have a very tough task. They represent clients that are accused of all manner of evil. Then they are faced with job of defending their client against the world, because let’s face it, that is who they are being accused by! The first question everyone wants an answer to is are they guilty? Well, that is what the justice system is designed to do, determine guilt and innocence. The justice system only works when every member of the system is doing their job. That includes the defense attorney!
In 2014 Jacob Hirsch Witz was accused of meeting a woman thru the social media application, Tinder, and raping the woman in her home. Witz was charged with Forcible Rape. On February 1, 2016 Witz was found not guilty by a jury of his peers. The defense attorney for Witz, Robby Gill was quoted by The Advocate, a Baton Rouge, Louisiana paper as saying, “Jake’s happy. Thrilled with the verdict. He wants to go back to school and graduate and be a productive member!” However, on the same day a Facebook post was made, seemingly mocking Mr. Gill saying, “On the lighter side, the attorney said Jake wants to be a productive member. Didn’t he try that already?”
Cases such as Witz are extremely unpopular because the crimes that are being alleged are offensive to society at large. In such cases it is common for the general public to look upon the defense attorney as being “the bad guy” right along side the accused. The fact is, Mr. Gill is a really great attorney and a fine human being. (I know this because I’ve met him and know his family well!) I’m not going to give a sweeping generalization by saying that all defense attorneys are fine human beings, but many of them are!
In the end, the criminal justice system is made up of the prosecution, the defense, the judge, and the jury. The prosecution has the burden of proving it’s case against the defense. The defendant doesn’t even half to testify! If the prosecution cannot prove it’s case beyond a reasonable doubt to the judge or jury, then the defendant goes free. It’s really that simple! Like it or not, defense attorneys have a tough job to do! Let them do their job. We never know if the day is coming when any one of us will need a defense attorney. At that moment, a great defense attorney will become a best friend!
 Photo by suphakit73. Published on 26 January 2014. Retrieved from http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/images/agree-terms.php?id=100230451
 Connelly, M. (2005). The Lincoln Lawyer. New York City, NY: Grand Central Publishing
 LSA-R.S. 14:42.1 (2016). Second Degree Rape
 Gyan, J. Jr. (February 1, 2016). Ex-LSU student accused of raping woman he met through Tinder acquitted Monday. The Advocate. Retrieved from http://theadvocate.com/news/14745275-84/texas-man-accused-of-raping-woman-he-met-through-tinder-was-acquitted-of-the-charge-monday