General Question

luigirovatti's avatar

Why must a defense lawyer defend rapists, murderers, etc.?

Asked by luigirovatti (2095points) 1 week ago

Bear with me, for a minute. I must state now that what follows is not my opinion. Got it? I am, however, applying a method of logic (maybe Socratic, dunno) to the defense of this question, in which I state a series of arguments, which will follow one after another to form one, “inescapable”, conclusion. And EXCLUSIVELY for the purpose of this question, nothing more.

Now, I’m gonna apply it.

1) The lawyer has an obligation to represent his/her client.
2) And that means to represent the best interests of his/her client.
3) Now, it’s better if people obey the law, not break it.
4) If someone does what is not in their own best interest, it is better if they are shown how to correct their mistakes, not if they are allowed to keep doing them.
5) If a criminal avoids conviction for his crimes, then (s)he’s less likely to learn how to correct his mistakes, not more.
6) Then it is in his/her best interest to be convicted. Even though, like a doctor’s patient, (s)he would rather do what is pleasant than what is painful though necessary.
7) So, if a lawyer wishes to serve the best interest of his/her client, and if (s)he know (s)he is guilty, (s)he should then do everything (s)he can to make sure (s)he is convicted so (s)he can receive the appropriate correction.

I guess, logic aside, that this reasoning warrants a further question: If a person can be determined with absolute certainty, whatever the means, that (s)he is not innocent, but guilty, would the defense lawyers still serve their duty?

Observing members: 0 Composing members: 0

27 Answers

jca2's avatar

The attorney is popular because he gets clients off. He’s not a social worker. People pay him to get them off, and they pay a lot of money for that (OJ Simpson for example). Nobody is going to pay to have the attorney get them a sentence. If that were the case, they could just plead guilty right off the bat, get a sentence and not have the trials and tribulations (pardon the pun) of a long court case.

gorillapaws's avatar

Your argument is abusing the ambiguity of “best interests.”

The lawyer’s duty is to his client’s best LEGAL interest (i.e. getting her the smallest possible punishment—ideally none). Whereas the argument is using the term “best interest” in a different manner. The apparent contradiction does not follow from the logic of your argument, but from the inherent differences in the term being used in two different ways.

Zaku's avatar

The justice system is designed to provide justice, and to be just, and provide everyone with a fair trial.

In order to justly apply justice, even to certain law-breakers, they need to be justly tried and convicted, and the way court cases work, that requires having someone who knows the law and knows how to argue a case, do an honest job of representing the defendant’s best interests.

Also, a lawyer who knows his client is guilty may just be there to present the opposing side of the person’s legal position and to plead for leniency. They are not supposed to, nor allowed to, make false representations when they plead the defendant’s case.

And there is the principle of presumption of innocence.

And very often (far too often) the justice system tries and convicts people who turn out to have been innocent.

But even when everyone agrees someone is guilty, the system is designed so that they should be defended competently, and the judge and jury should then be the ones who determine guilt and consequences. ... NOT the person who’s supposed to competently represent the defendant!

If you had defense lawyers unwilling to defend someone, it wouldn’t be possible to give them a fair trial, and the justice system itself would be injust and invalid.

luigirovatti's avatar

@gorillapaws: So you’re saying, in other words, that the legal interest of the client is not necessarily is best interest.

JLoon's avatar

The basic principle in our legal tradition is that anyone accused of a crime remains innocent until proven guilty. The system only works when people have representation, the public by a prosecutor and the accused by a defense attorney. The right to a defense against criminal charges is protected under law.

However – the right to an attorney can be waived in some circumstances, and a defendant may choose to plead guilty. Besides that, defense attorneys can and do withdraw from cases all the time. Court rules in almost every state provide that a lawyer may decline to represent a client if he perceives conflict of interest, finds personal moral or ethical grounds, or determines that the client is uncooperative and unwilling to work toward a reasonable defense.

So the notion that attorneys “must defend” criminal clients in every case is incorrect, and has major exceptions.

jca2's avatar

@luigirovatti: Some might argue that sitting in a jail cell and dealing with the issues of jail, along with the conviction and probably losing one’s job, is not in their best interest either.

Jeruba's avatar

So you think an accused murderer has made a mistake that can be corrected? How do you propose correcting a murder?

You’re viewing criminal law as a means of correction. That’s one view. The other is punishment. Got it?

luigirovatti's avatar

@Jeruba: Prison should have, primarily, a rehabilitative purpose. Not of confinement.

stanleybmanly's avatar

Socratic? Do you really believe that? The fallacy with your “logic” is that if every word of it is accurate about the value in punishment for crime, it has nothing to do with the purpose of the process. The defense attorney’s job isn’t to help the guilty avoid punishment, even if that is the result of the process. The defense is the guarantee that the state deliver on its mandate to PROVE the guilt of the accused. Your analysis is invalid because it reverses the key to it all in assuming that all defendants are guilty. The lawyers job isn’t to defend rapists, murderers, etc. Her job is to defend the ACCUSED.

luigirovatti's avatar

@stanleybmanly: I still believe you’re right, by the way, but, in point 7) I wrote: ”and if (s)he know (s)he is guilty” Statistically, it’s improbable, if not impossible, it applies to all the lawyer’s clients. And anyway, even the accused can be known by the lawyer if (s)he is guilty.

SergeantQueen's avatar

Not everyone can be rehabilitated. And most prisons don’t get enough funding to really have any rehabilitative purpose anyways. Mental health, for example, is a service that is seriously lacking in a lot of prisons.

stanleybmanly's avatar

Again, it doesn’t matter if the defense is fully aware that his/her client is guilty as sin. The defense is there to compel the state to PROVE it.

gorillapaws's avatar

@SergeantQueen “Not everyone can be rehabilitated.”

That’s true, but it’s certainly possible to do a much better job than in the US. Norway’s recidivism rate is only 20%. In other words 4 out of 5 never make it back to prison. The US is more than twice that at 43%. Add to this that Norway has a maximum sentence duration of 21 years, and they’re releasing more of the “really bad” people back into society than we are and still getting less than half of what we have returning to jail.

@SergeantQueen ”...most prisons don’t get enough funding to really have any rehabilitative purpose anyways.”

Also very true—though I would point out that the expense of having to process, and incarcerate more prisoners because of recidivism, plus the cost of the additional crime on society at large is much more expensive the way the US does things.

SergeantQueen's avatar

Also the reason why attorneys have to represent this people is because it is in America’s Bill of Rights. You have the right to council.

kritiper's avatar

It’s their job. It’s what pays the bills.

Jeruba's avatar

counsel

SergeantQueen's avatar

What is the difference? I have seen both?

jca2's avatar

@SergeantQueen: Legal assistance is counsel.

SergeantQueen's avatar

@gorillapaws Recidivism is exactly why I brought up mental health. Yes, U.S. does things in a way that isn’t cheap, but I listened to a presentation by someone who is a mental health person in a prison, and watched a documentary on prisons in Chicago and it was focused around mental health. I have concluded that that is a thing that needs major focus.

I can go and get sources in a bit, but my main issue is people not having those services outside of prison. Where do they go once they are released? What if they were placed on meds in prison what happens to the supply once they are out? How do they get better if they aren’t given the resources to get better? A probation/parole officer can only do so much and even then, if they don’t have the resources, the client won’t either.

I want to help those who can be helped. I want there to be more resources. If that means re-budgeting the cost of the process somehow then… do it? But I am not someone who knows how budgeting works so I can’t speak much on money.

I think restorative justice is a good way to help with that too, but the accused and the victim need to be on board for that, and it gets a lot tougher to achieve on more sensitive crimes. Although, the Sycamore Tree project connects convicted inmates to victims. The inmates are unrelated to the victim but have committed the same crimes. Some family members of murder victims have met with convicted murderers through this. But, the victim has to be on board. Making restorative justice not 100% possible in all situations.
~~~
To answer the OP question, I think the fact that you are representing someone doesn’t mean you support/don’t support what they did. As in, you can represent a murderer but not think they did it or think that they did it. The DA should believe what they are pursuing but the defense doesn’t need to believe one way or the other, if that makes sense.

It’s more about ensure the person standing trial gets their story heard, and doesn’t have any rights violated. I’m sure plenty of lawyers have defended murderers whom they thought committed the crime. But the money motivated them. Or the fact that, like I said, they really are just showing the defendants side (as there are 2 sides to every story).

1) The lawyer has an obligation to represent his/her client.
Yes. I think lawyers may decline a case but eventually someone will take it. They just have to make sure the defendants rights are not violated and that they have a fair trial. They show the evidence that supports their clients side but they don’t have to have the goal of getting their client off scot-free

2) And that means to represent the best interests of his/her client.
Yes

3) Now, it’s better if people obey the law, not break it.
Yep.

4) If someone does what is not in their own best interest, it is better if they are shown how to correct their mistakes, not if they are allowed to keep doing them.
Sometimes true. @Jeruba brought up my view on this. Murder, rape, etc are not mistakes that can just be corrected. I’d so most crimes aren’t. You know when you are committing a crime and are choosing to do so, that isn’t a mistake.Whether or not it can be corrected depends on your view.

5) If a criminal avoids conviction for his crimes, then (s)he’s less likely to learn how to correct his mistakes, not more.
I would say yes, if a criminal gets no punishment and is found not-guilty for a crime they committed then yes they may not stop their behavior. Or the thought of how close they were to potentially going to jail may scare them to stop.

6) Then it is in his/her best interest to be convicted. Even though, like a doctor’s patient, (s)he would rather do what is pleasant than what is painful though necessary.
Convicted just means found guilty. The punishment is what should make the “correction” not just being found guilty. Prison/jail time is not the solution to everything. Sometimes, community service or restorative justice is. For example, you stole from a homeless person so you have to volunteer at a homeless shelter. That is community service AND restorative justice because you are helping the people you took from. Jail doesn’t always “correct” behavior. You may be more likely to realize what you did was wrong when you have direct contact with the people you hurt, if that makes sense.

7) So, if a lawyer wishes to serve the best interest of his/her client, and if (s)he know (s)he is guilty, (s)he should then do everything (s)he can to make sure (s)he is convicted so (s)he can receive the appropriate correction
The best interest of the client is making sure they have a fair trial, that no rights are violated, and that they get a chance to properly defend themselves by being able to show evidence that supports their story. After that, the “best interest” depends on whether they are found guilty or not guilty. If a lawyer wants to prove that someone committed the crime they are accused of, then they shouldn’t be a defense attorney. They should look into becoming a district attorney, or just not do criminal/civil law.

gorillapaws's avatar

@SergeantQueen I completely agree about mental health. We lock up a lot of people in the US that would be getting community mental health services in most first-world nations. The other problem is that it’s become a profit center for corporations running for-profit private prisons with what amounts to slave labor. They buy off politicians (from both parties) to support tough-on-crime laws like Biden’s disastrous crime bill, which results in full prisons and generous returns for their shareholders (plus bonuses for the executives).

I think many defense attorneys are fighting these injustices by giving their clients a fighting chance in a system designed to keep them from having options to escape the cycle.

SergeantQueen's avatar

@gorillapaws

I agree politicians do not help the situation. They shouldn’t be “bought” into this stuff.

Can you can be “tough on crime” and still try to keep people out of jail and focus on rehabilitation? I want to say no but I wonder what your thoughts are.

I agree on the point about defense lawyers as wellm

JLoon's avatar

I see some people responding here trying their best to offer good answers to what’s really a very strange and disturbing premise in the original question : That somehow an attorney could represent the “best interests” of a defendant by just giving up and letting them go to jail.

From a legal, factual,, and ethical standpoint thats just crazy, and let’s be clear about it. It’s based on two fallacies that don’t hold up under examination. 1) That being acquitted of a criminal charge is a lost opportunity to “learn how to correct mistakes”; and 2) Prison is the best environment for that kind of learning. If either of those assumptions were true the concepts of guilt or innocence would be meaningless, and we’d all be working to get our kids into tough prisons instead of good schools.

As a thought experiment its sort of interesting – but some experiments fail.

luigirovatti's avatar

@JLoon: I surely know that not all is cupcakes and sprinkles in reality, but ideally it could work. And anyway, I’m talking about criminals, not of all people, and not necessarily kids.

luigirovatti's avatar

@JLoon: And last, but not least, I’m not necessarily talking about prison, merely a conviction, most of all, of those whose evidence shows they’re clearly guilty.

stanleybmanly's avatar

It goes wrong because right out of the gate your premise misstates the function of the defense. It neglects the single fact on which the entire structure is footed—innocence until proven guilty. Like it or not, legally, there are no rapists or murderers before conviction, only defendants.

JkrbyPlylsts's avatar

To make sure things are kept fair. That is the logic as everyone regardless of who they are is allowed a fair trial.

Answer this question

Login

or

Join

to answer.

This question is in the General Section. Responses must be helpful and on-topic.

Your answer will be saved while you login or join.

Have a question? Ask Fluther!

What do you know more about?
or
Knowledge Networking @ Fluther