Criminal defense attorneys hear this kind of question frequently. The answer is easy with a certain kind of client: they didn’t do it. The most rewarding–and most frightening–criminal cases we take are the ones where our client has been wrongly accused. In these cases, our mission and the justice of our fight is obvious. No one should be convicted of a crime they didn’t commit.
But what about the more difficult cases? In many cases, the client has broken the law, sometimes in very serious ways. The truth is there isn’t an easy answer.
Here’s one analogy that I’ve found useful in explaining my job: Waco criminal defense attorneys are the quality control for law enforcement. It’s not the only reason, but it is–we believe–a good one.
While our local police officers and prosecutors are tasked with the responsibility to uphold our Constitutional rights, these freedoms can also pose significant obstacles to the business of investigating and prosecuting crime. Sometimes, they fail to uphold them out of a desire to detect or prevent crime and end up violating those basic freedoms.
But why should you care about the illegal search of someone’s house that turns up a bag of marijuana? Or a bad traffic stop that ends up catching a drunk driver? Or a thief who is badgered into confessing under an illegal interrogation? Those people deserved to get caught and punished because they were committing crimes.
You should care because the only people who get to challenge the illegal actions of police are those who are accused of crimes. The innocent person who is stopped without reason, whose home is searched without a warrant, or is subjected to custodial questioning has no practical resort to avenge the violation of their rights.
Police want (among other things) to generate good cases based on strong, usable evidence. This means they have to care about the constitutionality of their actions whenever they interact with the public. When they violate someone’s rights, they know that they can’t use that evidence. The person that has done something wrong will get charged with a crime and the Government will attempt to use the evidence they obtained illegally against the person. A good defense attorney will get this evidence thrown out.
This fact motivates law enforcement to make sure that every traffic stop, every search, every questioning is done within the bounds of the Constitution. Without effective defense attorneys fighting for the rights of the guilty, everyone’s rights are in jeopardy–even those who have done nothing wrong. We ensure that the police and prosecutors have to answer for their missteps and force them to keep their substantial power within the dictates of the law.
Thanks to our friends and contributors from Sutton, Milam & Fanning for their insight into defending people accused of crimes.