Oct 15, 2012 More on the answer to “How can you represent THOSE people?”
A frequent question posed to criminal defense lawyers is "How can you defend THOSE people?" The question is sometimes phrased and asked as brazenly as that, even in the middle of otherwise enjoyable gatherings among relatives and at friends’ homes (asked by their invitee(s)); sometimes worded and asked in a more neutral way, searching for answers; and sometimes for sport by people not convinced that it is better to be silent than to be irritating when at a loss of words for how to make small talk at a cocktail gathering.
Slews of people feel as emboldened to challenge a criminal defense lawyer’s line of work as they do to challenge an elected politician, anytime, anywhere, and even as confrontationally as they wish. For me, this is an opportunity to get the word out on how honorable is criminal defense work. I have addressed my response to this question here and here, including that plenty of my clients are charged with actions that I feel are overcriminalized (and sometimes should not even be criminalized) in the first place, including illegal drug possession and sales, drinking and driving, and prostitution. A good number of criminal defendants did not commit the alleged crime — and often are targeted on the basis of race or socioeconomic circumstances – or should be acquitted for insufficient evidence or reasonable doubt. All convicted criminal defendants are entitled to vigorous defense at sentencing, and at appeal if they choose to appeal (which is usually wise if convicted at trial, other than in jurisdictions where the appeal is a trial de novo from a misdemeanor conviction). By now, of course, I can feel comfortable defending a person against any criminal charge, no matter how allegedly heinous, even if I am convinced my client did the alleged crime.
A close family member was recently asked at a spiritual gathering how someone as kind as I am could do criminal defense work and gave a wonderful and on-point answer about the compassion I feel for all people, the need I feel to humanize everyone, and the need for everyone to feel humanized and to receive compassion and empathy. As Publius Terence said: Homo sum: humani nil a me alienum puto./I am human: nothing human is alien to me. Thich Nhat Hanh takes Publius Terrence a step further in his poem "Please Call Me by My True Names," recognizing that but for his fortune in experience, resources, compassion and wisdom from an early age, he could have become the child raped by a pirate as well as the pirate who raped her, "my heart not yet capable of seeing and loving."
Mitakuye Oyasin. We are all related, and it is an illusion and delusion to think otherwise. There is no them versus us in the final analysis. It is all we, including our perceived and actual opponents and enemies. Connectedness with each other is not some sort of touchy-feely approach to life, but a reality that, once recognized by more people, will reduce wars, violence upon others and trespasses against others, and will bring us towards a much better world where people will open their hearts to each other and share with each other of themselves and of their resources.
I do not represent "those" people. I represent people, and am honored to do so.