I believe in the rights of the accused. That is not a popular belief now. We have had a backlash against it. I developed this belief when I was fourteen. My father, who was a police officer, took me to see a criminal jury trial. He explained to me about the murders that had occurred and that the man sitting at the table with his attorney had committed them. I asked why if we knew that the man was guilty, was there a trial, with a man whose job it was to defend him? My father then explained that every person was entitled to a defense under the law. I was fascinated by the concept. However, as I watched this criminal trial, I began to believe in the defendant’s actual innocence. The defense attorney had done his job with me; I believed him. Unfortunately for his client the jury did not and he was convicted.
That trial sparked a passion in me. I asked my father what kind of attorney does nothing but criminal defense work. He then told me the words that define me: Public Defender. The name itself sounds wonderful to me. I believe that any person should have someone who fights for their rights when they are accused of a crime. I believe that the job is even more important when the defendant can not afford a private attorney. When I hear my client’s story, I don’t always think that they are innocent. But by the time I am done preparing their jury trial, I always believe. Sometimes, I believe in my client’s innocence more than they do.
People always ask me how my father, who was a police officer felt about what I do for a living. I always tell them that he is the one who inspired my belief in the rights of the accused. He used to tell me that the State has awesome power. They have the investigative power of all the police officers, they receive the lion’s share of money to distribute justice, and they have the good-will of the citizens on their side. All the defendant has is me and the right to be presumed innocent. He always told me that if I won a case, that person deserved to go free, even if he really did it.
I believe, even in this post-9/11 world that it really is better for one hundred guilty people to go free than to imprison one innocent person. I believe that Public Defenders are the only thing standing between poor people and the State’s incredible ability to put people in jail. I believe in these things because I was taught to by my father, the police officer. I believe in them because I have seen people who I believe were innocent who have been arrested. I believe in them because I understand the incredible power of the criminal justice system and the evil that it can do if it is unchecked. I and others like me are that check. The defendant who was found guilty in that murder trial when I was fourteen that started my belief? He was sentenced to death. Then he was set free. It was discovered that the State had hidden evidence and lied to his defense attorney. This is why I believe in the presumption of innocence.
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