Although I enthusiastically agree with Peter Keane’s conclusion, namely, that everyone, even those accused of a heinous crime, deserves a defense, I was frustrated to hear that he completely missed the point why this should be embraced by all people. According to Keane, everyone deserves to have at least one friend when they are up against such formidable adversaries as the State or the police or (and I add) the general public. ‘At least one friend’? Surely the victim’s family would question whether Keane’s maxim— apparently designed to arouse an inappropriate emotional response—is a maxim at all. Couldn’t one argue that a person with a flagrant disregard for human life should be friendless? Perhaps Keane is being inappropriate (again) by mixing a religious undertone with a legal justification. (I am not saying that it is wrong to befriend a criminal, I am only questioning whether you need to do so to defend one.)
The real reason we should have defense attorneys who do their very best to defend the accused no matter how guilty they seem to be, is to ensure fairness. When the defense throws everything at the State and the State still gets a guilty verdict then we can rest assured the accused was treated fairly and probably really is guilty. If there is little or no defense, how can we ever be satisfied we got the right person? Little or no defense would be akin to a state sanctioned lynching. But to use a different metaphor: If all we throw at the Green Bay Packers is a rinky-dink high school football team in the finals, are Packers fans truly satisfied their team is the ‘best of the best’ even if they win by a very large margin? Likewise, the only way justice can reign is when we have two equally matched opponents, each doing their very best to bring out their positions. Then and only then do we have a chance for something like the truth to prevail.
Keane in another emotional moment talks about how he at times felt guilty defending people when he was able to identify with the victims and see his own family in the victim’s faces. But I ask: why feel guilty when you are part of something much larger than this or that victim; or this or that accused? You are ensuring that the judicial system as a whole works for all. And if the accused gets off and commits the same crime, that’s not your fault. It is likely he got off because he should have been acquitted: i.e. the State’s case was flawed; the State brought the case to trial too soon, etc. The bottom line is: it is better to acquit a guilty person than to convict and punish an innocent one. Just think how many innocent people you are sparing further pain and hardship; think how many guilty people you are sparing excessive punishment. Both categories of accused should bring any defense attorney a sense of pride. And no where does it say you have to be a friend to any one of them.
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