One question that defense attorneys are frequently asked is “How can you defend people you know are guilty.” When faced with that issue, my response is “What I do is defend people’s rights and not their actions” That is a key point that many individuals do not initially consider; I am rarely defending someone’s actions, but I am always defending someone’s rights.
Defending a client’s rights is something I do every day. Only in a rare case where a client did something under unusual circumstances—for instance, shot someone in self-defense am I defending their actions.
As a defense attorney, it is my job to make the government prove its case and ensure that they follow the law in doing so. It’s not just important for my clients to make the government prove their case, its important for every one of us. If I don’t, we no longer have a system where people must be found guilty by a jury of their peers; we have a system in which only the defense attorney has to be convinced.
The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution protects your right to privacy, ensuring that the government cannot (with certain notable exceptions) break into your home, search your person, or otherwise invade any place where you have a reasonable expectation of privacy without first proving that it has probable cause to establish that you have committed a crime, or that evidence of a crime will be found.
If the government is guilty of violating your Fourth Amendment rights, the courts have established the exclusionary rule: any evidence obtained against you in violation of your rights cannot be used against you in court.
This protects all of us, not just the accused. Like everyone else, the police make mistakes. They are often absolutely sure that they’ve got the right suspect and may ignore contradictory evidence. They may discount any evidence that would tend to exonerate the suspect and overestimate the value of any evidence that tends to incriminate the suspect.
Look at people like Richard Jewell or the individuals who are freed after modern DNA or other evidence is uncovered. The wrong people can be charged and convicted.
I defend individuals because I believe that it’s necessary to do so to protect the rights of law-abiding citizens. If I’m wrongly accused of a crime, the government should publicly demonstrate their evidence so that I can properly defend myself.
- Robert LeBell