The Ethical Dilemma of Defending a Guilty Client

As a criminal defense attorney, I have often been asked how I can defend someone who I know is guilty. It's a question that many people struggle to understand, but the answer lies in the fundamental principles of our legal system and the ethical responsibilities of a defense lawyer. First and foremost, it's important to understand the difference between factual and legal culpability. Factual guilt refers to what the defendant actually did, while legal guilt is what can be proven in court. Just because someone may have committed a crime does not mean they are legally guilty until the prosecutor can provide sufficient evidence to persuade a judge to convict them. However, this does not mean that a defense lawyer can lie or deceive the court on behalf of their client.

In fact, it is their duty to ensure that their client's constitutional rights are protected and that they receive a fair trial. This includes advocating for a light sentence, negotiating a guilty plea, and verifying evidence from the prosecution. One of the key reasons why lawyers can defend someone they know is guilty is because our society values due process and the right to an attorney for all citizens. The Constitution guarantees these rights, and it is the responsibility of a criminal defense lawyer to uphold them. This means that they must provide effective representation for their clients, regardless of their guilt or innocence. It's important to note that the job of a defense attorney is not to seek the truth, but rather to ensure that the rules and procedures of our legal system are followed.

This may seem counterintuitive, but it serves as a safeguard against potential abuses of power by the government. In fact, in ancient Jewish law, lawyers were prohibited from being present in courts because they were seen as hindering the search for truth. As a defense attorney, my ultimate goal is to protect the rights of my clients and ensure that they receive a fair trial. This means that I must view each client as if they were innocent, regardless of their actual guilt. It is not my job to prove their innocence, but rather to ensure that the burden of proof is met by the prosecution and that my client's rights are not violated. While it may seem like a difficult ethical dilemma, the reality is that most criminal defense attorneys will represent whoever walks through their door and can afford their fees.

This means that they may end up defending someone who they believe is guilty, but it is their duty to provide them with the best possible defense. It's also important to understand that a defense attorney is not required to ask their client if they are guilty. In fact, it is not relevant to the case and could potentially harm their client's defense. Instead, a good lawyer will use the facts of the case to present the best possible defense and leave the question of guilt in the hands of the judge. In some cases, a client may choose to plead guilty even if they are innocent because they fear that their lawyer will abandon them if they admit their guilt. This is a difficult situation for both the lawyer and the client, but it highlights the importance of maintaining ethical standards and providing effective representation for all clients. One example of this is California lawyer Stephen Feldman, who defended David Westerfield, convicted of murdering a seven-year-old girl.

Despite knowing his client's guilt, Feldman provided him with a vigorous defense and ensured that his constitutional rights were protected. In conclusion, as a criminal defense attorney, I understand the ethical dilemma of defending someone who I know is guilty. However, it is my duty to uphold the principles of our legal system and provide effective representation for all clients, regardless of their guilt or innocence. The job of a defense attorney is not to prove innocence, but rather to ensure that the rights of the accused are protected and that justice is served for all parties involved.

Ernest Carsten
Ernest Carsten

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