When people talk about “defending the innocent” or “defending the guilty” they’re talking about factual guilt — did the person do what he’s accused of doing? — rather than legal innocence or guilt — has the government proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant did what he’s accused of doing (and that no defenses apply)?
The distinction is crucial to an understanding of how and why I do what I do.
Whether they did what they’re accused of or not, everybody I represent in trial is legally innocent; they remain that way unless the government can prove them guilty beyond a reasonable doubt (either in a jury trial or with a guilty plea).
Whether my clients are factually innocent or factually guilty — whether they did what they’re accused of doing — isn’t directly relevant to their defense. Often in America factually innocent people are found guilty; more often (I devoutly hope) factually guilty people are not found guilty.
It doesn’t matter much to me whether my clients did what they’re accused of; what matters most is whether the government can prove its case against them.