Access to The Champion archive is one of many exclusive member benefits. It’s normally restricted to just NACDL members. However, this content, and others like it, is available to everyone in order to educate the public on why criminal justice reform is a necessity.
Well I won’t back down, no I won’t back down
you could stand me up at the gates of hell
but I won’t back down
Gonna stand my ground, won’t be turned around
and I’ll keep this world from draggin’ me down
gonna stand my ground and I won’t back down
Hey baby, there ain’t no easy way out
hey I will stand my ground
and I won’t back down
Well I know what’s right, I got just one life
in a world that keeps on pushin’ me around
but I’ll stand my ground and I won’t back down
Hey baby there ain’t no easy way out
hey I will stand my ground
and I won’t back down
No, I won’t back down
Tom Petty (1989)
Counsel, did you ask the government for the exculpatory information before the trial started? It seems to me that if you had been organized and effectively representing your client, you would have thought about this request and not waited in ambush the day of trial. Mr. Defendant, we will now have to continue this trial because your lawyer did not get this information in advance.
Sound familiar? Ever feel like somehow everything bad happening in the courtroom is your fault? The above colloquy, despite Rule 16 and other similar obligations, is an increasingly everyday experience for the criminal defense lawyer. We are frequently placed in a defensive posture, when most of the time we have done nothing more than be an aggressive advocate for our clients consistent with the rules and the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. So, why is it we find ourselves in the position of being conciliatory, apologetic, and beaten down?
NACDL Past President William Moffitt said that we must “take the begging out of the business.” We are frequently faced with standing up for clients who have committed heinous, repulsive, and despicable acts. But, for the most part, we represent clients who make bad choices and do not exercise good judgment. There is a tendency for us to minimize and apologize on behalf of clients, as if somehow feeling it is the only way to persuade someone in the courtroom to have some compassion.
What’s wrong with just telling it like it is and being real? Judge, my client is just a screw up. There is no real good reason why — or maybe there are some good reasons why — a kid from a drug-addicted mother and a good for nothing father finally cracked. Whatever the reason is, you don’t have to be sorry. What are you sorry for in this context? Sorry you choose the most difficult path in the legal profession? Sorry you can’t get a job in the District Attorney’s Office? Sorry you aren’t on the bench? Sorry you did not get a bigger fee? Sorry you lost the case? Sorry you don’t get the respect you think you deserve? Or just plain sorry your client is hated by almost everyone in the entire world except you?
We all made the choice to become criminal defense lawyers for a number of reasons. Some reasons may be noble, others may not be. Whatever your reason may be, it requires fortitude, courage, and strength to do this work on a daily basis. I have had the privilege to observe and teach hundreds of lawyers over the last 26 years of my career. There is not a moment that goes by that I am not cognizant of the difficulties that this job requires professionally, and as far too many of us know, personally. With that said, what is important is the daily battle in the courtroom waged by my fellow colleagues. Public defenders, court-appointed and private retained counsel, white collar, blue collar, and no collar lawyers continuously strive to uphold the foundation of a just and moral justice system. You battle the almighty government from rural communities to urban cities. Sometimes we lack adequate resources, but we still win. Actually, we still win a lot.
I am still waiting for the day the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, or the Denver Post carries a story about the “sexual predator” who was found not guilty. The storyline seems to only gravitate toward the client found guilty or the actual innocence client exonerated after 27 years behind bars. They are the clients whose stories resonate. But we know that the government’s accusation lodged against a client can take that client from having a lifetime of success to being branded for life by a harsh criminal justice system. The criminal defense attorney is the person shielding the defendant from a powerful government that can maim a citizen for life.
We choose to be criminal defense lawyers not because it is easy, but because it is hard. We stand as a shield to protect the accused from the powers of a mighty government. We fight to uphold the rights embodied in the Constitution, and to ensure justice is not one-sided.
Stand up, lift your head high, and be proud of your profession. Let me quote the words spoken by a criminal defense attorney’s mother after listening to us cry the collective blues about our public defender jobs. Helen Zebell turned to us and said, “Remember girls, you are the modern day saints of our times.” Hear, hear! And, no more apologizing!
A Defender’s Guide to Federal Evidence: A Trial Practice Handbook for Criminal Defense Attorneys
This Guide to Federal Evidence is the only federal evidence handbook written exclusively for criminal defense lawyers. The Guide analyzes each Federal Rule of Evidence and outlines the main evidentiary issues that confront criminal defense lawyers. It also summarizes countless defense favorable cases and provides tips on how to avoid common evidentiary pitfalls. The Guide contains multiple user-friendly flowcharts aimed at helping the criminal defense lawyer tackle evidence problems. A Defender’s Guide to Federal Evidence is an indispensable tool in preparing a case for trial.
Modern Digital Evidence & Technologies in Criminal Cases
Modern cases need modern defenses, and modern lawyers can't practice with an outdated playbook. This program is a contemporary training that identifies emerging technologies and digital evidence encountered in today's criminal cases and arms you with the tools necessary to combat expert witnesses, prosecutorial overreach, and an uneducated judge and jury. This comprehensive CLE program covers both general aspects of new technologies as well as practical courtroom application and legal challenges to the use of these new technologies.
Top Shelf DUI Defenses: The Law, The Science, The Techniques (2021)
If you are serious about being an effective DUI defense advocate, or if you’re considering adding DUI defenses to your portfolio, you need to know the latest scientific and legal strategies to optimize your success at trial. Learn from the best-of-the-best in the field in this unique CLE Program, updated for 2021.
Defending Modern Drug Cases (2021)
From challenging the arrest and seizure to picking a jury and cross-examining police officers, defense attorneys handling drug cases must be able to construct a defense that will increase the chances of the client getting a positive result for your client.
Effective motion practice, juror selection, and storytelling have never been more important. This seminar will introduce defense counsel to techniques that have been used at recent drug trials to rebut specific claims and overcome the emotion created in today’s criminal legal system.