General Question

Jude's avatar

You're a defense lawyer, you're fairly certain that your client is guilty of murder, yet, you do all that you can to get him or her off, how can you live with yourself?

Asked by Jude (32198points) July 5th, 2011

How do defense lawyers do it?

I am pretty sure that Casey Anthony murdered her daughter. When she was found not guilty of murder and child abuse (even), the defense lawyers were happy as peaches.

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43 Answers

cletrans2col's avatar

Simple. Every citizen has a right to representation.

DeanV's avatar

Lots and lots of money, probably.

ETpro's avatar

That is how our adversarial system of justice works. To do any less for a client would be criminal negligence. Of course, as an officer of the court, if I absolutely know my client is guilty, I have an obligation to tell the truth about it. But In Casey Anthony’s case the defense was under no such obligation. The testimony and evidence showed that neither the defense nor the prosecution really knew what happened to the little girl. In such a case, “Not Guilty” is the only reasonable verdict for a jury to reach.

cletrans2col's avatar

The thing that gets me is that if all of those people that criticize the defense team where is Casey’s shoes, they would want their lawyer to fight just as hard as her lawyers did and would be elated that they won.

srmorgan's avatar

Your job is to advocate for your client, regardless of whether you believe in his or her innocence or guilt. That is your sole responsibility, nothing else matters.

If you have not done your job, then you can lose sleep over it.

Everyone is entitled to a vigorous defense, no matter what you might think of the client.


DarlingRhadamanthus's avatar

The job of an attorney is to defend the client (as in this case).

I may agree with you @Jude, but the attorneys were doing what they were hired to do.

And remember, “not guilty” does not mean “innocent”.

We don’t know the whole story, and we probably never will.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

”’re fairly certain…”

I’m glad the legal system doesn’t operate on the criteria of “fairly certain”. Like the airlines, a good guess can lead to much needless harm.

FutureMemory's avatar

They’re able to stifle their humanity.


You’re there to do your job professionally. As a professional, you cannot allow yourself to be guided by your heart. You’re doing your job according to the law, not according to what is right and wrong (that is, you do your job in a legal court, not a moral one). I know that sounds cold and unfeeling, but that’s the way it is.

lucillelucillelucille's avatar

I could not do that job.

gondwanalon's avatar

You could ask Johnnie Cochran this question but he died of a brain tumor just 9 years after the O.J Simpson murder case.

filmfann's avatar

Guilty Client + Not Guilty Verdict = Food for their Ego, and increased future earnings.

roundsquare's avatar

The system is premised on the fact that having lawyers advocate as best as they can for their client gets to truth/morality. If lawyers start deciding who to advocate more or less strongly for based on their personal feelings, the system falls apart.

WasCy's avatar

As “an officer of the court” an attorney is bound to do his or her best for the client within the system of rules that we have. Period.

No, an attorney would not “tell the truth about” what he may know about his client. Hell no. (His obligation would be to not put the client on the stand and suborn perjury. For this reason most attorneys don’t want to hear a confession of guilt from their clients, because it hamstrings their defense attempts.)

Truly, an attorney does exactly what the attorney du jour did in the Anthony case:
– attempt to exclude evidence against one’s client if it was collected illegally or if the chain of custody was broken or if it has been tampered with;
– attempt to discredit witnesses and find inconsistencies in their stories;
– seek “alternative hypotheses” for the crime;
– demonstrate or argue that no actual crime has been proven;
– advocate strongly for the client.

The system only works when the attorneys (and investigators) for both sides do their jobs honestly and to the best of their abilities. Do we really want to put people in jail just because “a preponderance of the people catching the news at one time or another” think “well, she’s a terrible mother, she should be in jail for the rest of her life”?

plethora's avatar

Our criminal justice system protects us from our own human nature, which can easily screw an innocent man to a tree. The Anthony prosecution proved that Casey Anthony was a liar and a bad mother. But that’s it. There was simply no physical evidence linking her to her daughter’s death. Might she have done it? Yes. Might she probably have done it? Yes. But did a jury of her peers think that there was proof beyond a reasonable doubt that she did it? No. And that is what is required in our country and God bless the defense attorneys. The State would roll right over us without them.

gorillapaws's avatar

@plethora well said.

I would much rather live in a country where lawyers impartially worked their hardest to provide the best defense possible than one where lawyers decided beforehand amongst themselves. The cost of such a system is that some guilty people may go free, but that is infinitely more preferable to having innocents put to death by the state because their lawyers didn’t believe their clients.

plethora's avatar

@gorillapaws Most certainly!!

Jaxk's avatar

The story is told of a Chinese law professor, who was listening to a British lawyer explain that Britons were so enlightened, they believed it was better that ninety-nine guilty men go free than that one innocent man be executed. The Chinese professor thought for a second and asked, “Better for whom?”

Our system is definitely skewed to insure the innocent are not punished. Nonetheless, 138 innocent men have been released from death row by new evidence proving thier innocence. I believe the system designed to err on the side of innocence is a good one.

Plucky's avatar

I think if you truly believe your client is guilty, then you should drop the case immediately (or at least be allowed to do so). I’m disgusted by how many guilty people get off in the so-called justice system. I know evidence is important ..and blah blah blah. It just sucks sometimes – especially when lawyers weasel their way through it. Don’t even get me started on real evidence that is not allowed in trial because of whatever silly reason. There are way too many laws protecting the criminals in our society.

How I would deal with it? Probably lots of money and intoxication ..and a young death from all the guilt and stress. I could never be a lawyer. If I was one, I’d be the poorest mother-effer in the firm.

roundsquare's avatar

@Plucky “Don’t even get me started on real evidence that is not allowed in trial because of whatever silly reason.”

Which ones do you consider silly? The ones I know are pretty reasonable if they are used properly.

Plucky's avatar

@roundsquare Evidence from wire-tapping and illegally obtained are the ones I can think of right now. I think it is incredibly stupid that if you have someone on tape, confirming their guilt, that you can’t use it in a trial. If someone obtains evidence illegally…uh it’s still evidence. If I break into your house and find the actual bloody knife you used to kill someone with (with your fingerprints all over it) before you get a chance to dispose of it, that evidence should not be outright excluded.

Evidence is also excluded because of apparent privacy concerns – usually with big company lawsuits ..ugh, whatever.

There’s another tactic defense lawyers use too ..excluding evidence from someone being supposedly coerced into breaking the law (like setting up a sexual encounter with, what the adult in question believes to be, a minor).

And, yes, I know there are some legitimate reasons for these exclusions. Perhaps the number of criminals that get to walk free outweigh the few legitimate reasons. I think there are way too many tricks at the disposal of big-time greedy defense lawyers. And, of course, I’m not saying all defense lawyers are this way. I think the decision for evidence exclusion should be more case by case ..not predominantly a blanket law. How this would happen, I don’t know. I’m not a lawyer or law-maker and have no real desire to be.

Just type in “excluded evidence” in Google ..there’s a never-ending list of damning evidence excluded from trials.

WasCy's avatar


You’re not thinking that through. If illegally obtained evidence could be admitted at trial, then there would be zero restriction on police simply doing “whatever it takes” to gain a conviction. Hell, why even bother to look for evidence? If they can get a confession, then that’s even better, isn’t it? So they can do whatever they want to get you to say, “I did it.”

Do you want to live in the place where that goes on? Before you say, “I’m innocent of any wrongdoing. It wouldn’t bother me,” consider that lots of innocent people have already been convicted of crimes, even with all of the nominal and supposed safeguards that we have. What if your (or some family member of yours) worst enemy was the Chief of Police. Don’t you think they could “find” evidence to “show” that you were guilty of a crime?

gorillapaws's avatar

Just to add a bit to @WasCy‘s point, when there is a particularly heinous crime, there is tremendous pressure on the police department to catch who is responsible. This comes from the top down (Mayors, Governor’s etc.) and also from the community. There have been many cases where this situation has lead to innocent people being screwed over; just ask Richard Jewell or Rubin Carter.

WasCy's avatar

Absolutely, @gorillapaws. In Connecticut, the famous ongoing (stupid, tragic) case is that of Richard LaPointe, who was convicted of a brutal murder that nearly everyone associated with the case believes he was and is physically and mentally incapable of. Read the link; it’s pretty simple stuff.

Except… since this was such a high-profile case, and Jewell was an easy mark for a suspect, and the cops, prosecutors and judges have their own egos invested in the conviction now… he’ll likely never be set free.

Edit: Corrected the name from “Jewell” to “LaPointe”. Duh me.

roundsquare's avatar

@Plucky Wow, that is not the answer I expected at all. There is an ongoing and important debate about “big picture” vs “individual justice” but what you are saying completely ignores one side of the debate.

Perhaps there are better ways to handle the kind of issues you suggest. Maybe we can severely punish cops who get evidence illegally/improperly but allow the evidence in. In the end though, we absolutely need cops to respect our civil rights. Here’s the thing though. The rules stopping cops from doing stuff like this is not just about stopping “bad cops.” Its also about stopping zealous and well meaning cops.

I’m sorry, but its incredible immature/intellectually dishonest to weasel out by saying “I’m not a law maker.” No one is asking you to run for Parliament but you should, at the very least, consider why a rule is in place.

throssog's avatar

In the Legal Profession there are rules and codes of conduct. Yes, these require that counsel do the best job of defending their client that they, under the rules, may. However, the attorney must also believe in the dictum: Innocent until proven guilty. Yes, proven, and , again, by the rules. These rules have been formulated , over centuries, to attempt to ensure that it is as difficult as possible, within the bounds of reason, to convict an innocent person of a crime they did not commit.
Please, remember it is the job and duty of the prosecutor to seek the truth – not just a conviction. Few hold themselves to this duty. It is the States duty to prove its allegations…beyond a reasonable doubt. Which ought to be a tough standard but , today no longer is.
One of the most dangerous steps which anyone may take, in this area, is to forget the statement: “If you can do it to anybody, you can do it to anybody.” So, no matter what or how we may feel about the charges or the defendant, if we don’t protect the rights of even the most despicable and revolting among us…how may we protect our own?
Lovely play and later a movie,’ A Man for All Seasons’, wherein the author has Th. Moore state that he would give the Devil the benefit of law, for “mine own sake”.

WillWorkForChocolate's avatar

I wouldn’t be able to live with it. If I were certain that my client was guilty, I’d find a way to carefully botch the case.

gorillapaws's avatar

@WillWorkForChocolate I hope you or your family never finds themselves falsely accused of a crime and you are in a situation where your lawyers decide to betray your/your family’s trust as you said you would to others.

WillWorkForChocolate's avatar

@gorillapaws I said if I were “certain” the client was guilty. Read carefully before you make ignorant remarks, please.

And don’t start another flame war with me. I’m well used to the fact that you hate me and feel compelled to disagree with everything I say. Peace out.

gorillapaws's avatar

@WillWorkForChocolate There’s no such thing as “certainty.” I know I’ve been wrong about things I’ve been “certain” about in the past. The human mind is very error prone, and there have been cases of women identifying a rapist with 100% confidence, only to find out many years later that the DNA didn’t match.

I don’t hate you at all, I profoundly disagree with your assertion that my statement is somehow “ignorant” because I criticized the fact that you would be willing to violate people’s trust to ensure a conviction in a manner that would deprive the defendant of her fundamental American right to a fair trial.

Jaxk's avatar


The problem comes in where once you manipulate the system the first time, it becomes much easier the next time. Most prosecutorial abuses come from lawyers that truly believe the person is guilty. And they’re not always right. Read “The innocent Man” by John Grisham. It is the only non fiction book he’s written and he is a very good author which makes it an easy read. It shows what happens with overzealous prosecution and lax defense.

WillWorkForChocolate's avatar

You can be perfectly certain of a person’s guilt if they confirm to you that the accusations are true. This has been known to happen. In that case, I would do everything possible to discreetly sabotage the case. I don’t give a flying fuck about a fair trial in that case, nor do I believe in letting the guilty go free. Ever.

As I said, if I were CERTAIN of his/her guilt, and I would take a confession as a certainty, I’d make sure they went to prison.

@gorillapaws Yeah, we’ve gone round and round on several other threads where you “profoundly disagree” with everything I say. And you frequently voice an opposite opinion of others, just to stir shit up and get off on it. No big, I’m used to it now and pay you no mind.

@Jaxk The problem with our justice system is that it’s nothing but one giant manipulation. The US justice system is a fucking joke. If you don’t believe that, look at all the child molesters and rapists that go free every day. If I were a lawyer with a guilty client, I’d damn sure take part in the manipulation by making certain of their incarceration.

cletrans2col's avatar

@WillWorkForChocolate I hope you aren’t a lawyer, since you’ve shown you cannot be trusted.

WasCy's avatar


What’s going to give you the certainty that a client is guilty? Is it: “Oh, the police have accused him, and they’re never wrong.”

Is it: The New York Times says so in an editorial, so that’s all I need.

Is it: My neighbors are a good lot, and they’ve all assured me that they know the truth.

Don’t we have trials to arrive at some agreed-upon semblance of “certainty”? Or do you think “we should give him a fair trial and then hang him”?

WillWorkForChocolate's avatar

@cletrans2col I’m willing to go to prison for murdering anyone who dares touch either of my daughters. Of course I can’t be trusted. I’m okay with that.

@WasCy I quite clearly stated above that I would be certain of guilt if my client confessed to me.

Nobody freaking reads anymore.

cletrans2col's avatar

@WillWorkForChocolate Fine. Now that we agree on that, I reiterate that I’m glad you are not a lawyer.

WillWorkForChocolate's avatar

@cletrans2col So am I, because I can’t stand people that think scum-sucking bottom feeders deserve a fair anything.

And before I get anymore worked up and pissed off, I’m leaving this thread. I’m only allowed so many xanax per day.

cletrans2col's avatar

@WillWorkForChocolate Yes, because like it or not, it’s possible a scum-sucking bottom feeder is innocent, and putting them in jail because we don’t like them and forgo their access to a fair trial is not good for America.

gorillapaws's avatar

@WillWorkForChocolate it’s sad that you seem to have a hard time disagreeing on the issues without being disagreeable.

A big part of what being an American means is recognizing that the rights we all have are fundamental to us as human beings (God-given) and should never be trampled by the government or anyone else. Sometimes that means we have to do things we don’t like: letting the KKK peaceably assemble—but we’re all much better off living in a country where dickheads can legally say hateful things than in a country where people aren’t guaranteed the fundamental right to free speech.

The right to a fair trial is equally fundamental and critical to the essence of what America is. When you say “I don’t give a flying fuck about a fair trial…” in any situation, it’s a rejection of the fundamental principles of what America is all about. Perhaps you should relocate to Afghanistan or China if you don’t think everyone is entitled to a fair trial?

Plucky's avatar

@WasCy I did think it through. I thought it through with what little I know about the justice system. I know innocent people get convicted all the time. I know guilty people get acquitted all the time. Therefore, it seems to me that the system needs fixing.
What if your (or some family member of yours) worst enemy was the Chief of Police. Don’t you think they could “find” evidence to “show” that you were guilty of a crime? This already happens, regardless of the law or where someone lives.

@roundsquare I’m sorry, but its incredible immature/intellectually dishonest to weasel out by saying “I’m not a law maker.” No one is asking you to run for Parliament but you should, at the very least, consider why a rule is in place. I was not weaselling out of anything. I was showing that I am not experienced in such things, so I do not know how we would go about changing or fixing the current laws. I was not being immature/intellectually dishonest. I was giving my honest opinion on the exclusion of evidence. I did consider why these rules were in place. Hence, I also stated that I know there are legitimate reasons for these rules. But there is too much room for corruption. I just think it needs to be case by case, rather than a blanket ruling.

I understand that many instances of excluded evidence are for the better. I GET THAT it is, many times, a necessary action – I don’t have to like it. I have already stated this. But it shocks and disturbs me when evidence is excluded that is not for the better; when someone, who couldn’t be more guilty if it were tattooed on their forehead, is found not guilty on a simple technicality. The system needs to change. I would hope that much is obvious.

I am feeling quite misunderstood at the moment. I don’t know how to explain my position further. Call me what you will. I was asked for examples, so I gave the first ones that I thought of. They probably weren’t the best examples. It does not make me wrong or right. It is simply my opinion at this time. We are all clouded by personal experiences, to some degree or another. Blame it on that if you will. Perhaps when I’m more mature and intelligent, I shall have a different opinion (sarcasm intended).

I am on the same page, for the most part, as @WillWorkForChocolate. If I know someone is guilty (yes, it is possible to just know) ..I don’t give a flying fuck about a fair trial. And, no I do not want to move to China or Afghanistan never ceases to amaze me when people tell someone such a thing simply because of a harsh opinion on the almighty freaking justice system (or government for that matter). Yes, I’m getting annoyed and frustrated. I don’t appreciate my intellect or maturity being questioned or insulted because of an opinion.

(click Answer)

gorillapaws's avatar

@Plucky “it never ceases to amaze me when people tell someone such a thing simply because of a harsh opinion”

I’m not suggesting that @WillWorkForChocolate should move to a country that doesn’t believe that all people have a fundamental human right to a fair trial (even the guilty) because she disagrees with me. It’s because her belief is antithetical to the most basic principles of what an American is. It’s like suggesting to a Catholic who states they don’t believe in the authority of the Pope, might want to look for a different faith.

Jaxk's avatar

It is interesting to note, that those that admit guilt will generally get a plea deal. The harshest punishments are ALWAYS reserved for those that plead ‘Not Guilty’.

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