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None of us is safe from being prosecuted, making effective assistance of criminal counsel essential

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None of us is safe from being prosecuted, making effective assistance of criminal counsel essential.

Too many politicians, police and prosecutors have a penchant for painting the criminal law in terms of black and white: “You do the crime, you do the time;” “criminals must pay the price for their actions;” “we must keep the public safe.”

The world is not black and white. In the criminal justice system, we have people wrongly convicted on false testimony, false or unreliable evidence, mistaken testimony, coerced confessions, and incorrectly viewed evidence. We have people penalized with unjust mandatory minimum prison sentences and disproportionately harsh sentences, and with convictions that harm not only liberty, but also reputations, careers and immigration status.

The criminal justice system is a deeply-entrenched system that enriches those who work within it as well as the slew of contractors, product suppliers, private prisons and other businesses that drink from its well. Reforming the criminal justice system to start being in line with the Bill of Rights will face the resistance of all the politicians who rely on “tough on crime” messages to get elected, the people and businesses who profit from this business as usual, and the ordinary people lulled into thinking that any reform in the right direction will make them less safe.

Even members of the “tough on crime” crowd — and even police and prosecutors — are not safe from having their lives upended, bank accounts reduced to hire an attorney and possibly by reputational-related reduced income, and possibly liberty harmed by being accused of criminal activity, whether or not they committed the alleged criminal activity.

I have heard stories, apparently reliable, that criminal defense work was considered less admirable in much of the lawyer community right into the 1960’s. Hogwash! Without effective and honorable criminal defense lawyers, we have lost a critical vanguard to protect not only the Bill of Rights, but to protect those falsely accused, and to protect those who actually committed crimes from being convicted of worse than the crimes they committed, from being convicted on false or exaggerated evidence, from being convicted despite those prosecutors hiding evidence they are required to disclose, and from being sentenced with disproportionate harshness. I do not do criminal defense to gain admission to country clubs nor to be applauded in social registers. I defend clients in criminal court because it is in my blood to do so.

What good is all the lofty talk of civil liberties in public school civics and social studies classes if even the most law-abiding person can, in a moment’s notice, have his or her life’s rug pulled out from under them with a wrongful criminal prosecution, starting with the possibility of pretrial detention with bail denied?

Too many times, I see people who grew up to admire police and the criminal justice system so highly that they fail to give at least equal admiration and devotion to their Bill of Rights birthright, for instance by asserting their right to refuse police searches and to refuse to speak with the police when they are suspects or possible suspects.

Another critical right of the criminally accused is to obtain a lawyer to defend them. The real and potential landmines against criminal defendants are not all obvious to the naked eye of a layperson defendant. The price of paying a lawyer might seem substantial, but the price of not obtaining a criminal defense lawyer can be fatal.

For those concerned about the price of hiring a lawyer, that makes refusing police searches and refusing to talk with the police all the more important and often not only a lawyer’s fee saver, but sometimes a liberty saver.

Too often, law abiding people who think they have nothing to hide open their personal property, cars and homes to the police to search, figuring that doing so will convince the police to move on to other suspects. Too often those same people get awakened to the harsh surprise of the police finding evidence to use against that law abiding person, whether it be child pornography images on their computers accessed by another computer user, a marijuana roach left in their car by a passenger, a suspicious bank account transaction, and the list goes on.

Too often, law abiding people talk with the police, only to learn that that police are twisting their words, causing them to mis-speak in the midst of machine-gunned questions by multiple police all at once, and misunderstanding and mis-remembering what the police and suspect say.

Everyone needs the name of a good medical doctor just in case, and the same goes for having the name of a good criminal defense lawyer.