Sometimes You Have to Bask


Check out these comments to Norm Pattis’s Justice Demands Defense column in today’s Hartford Courant. People from all over the country lay into Norm’s ideas, Norm, and criminal-defense lawyers generally.

There’s ignorance there (“Defense lawyers would rather be disbarred before ever allowing a guilty plea.”), suspicion (“This is how defense lawyers think, if they know their client is guilty and a threat to society, they still use trickery to get them acquitted and then refuse to take responsibility for their later crimes.”), anger (“For the attorneys who think they have rights, stop soaking people of their hard earned money and get a real job!”), and fear (“Personally, I don’t think there really is a safe place to live anymore, not after 11 SEP 01.”).

Proving that ignorance of the law is not limited to civilians, someone identifying himself as “Lawyer from Texas” asks, “once they are convicted (you pretty much conceded that a conviction is a virtual certainty) are you willing to accept that the two should be put to death under Connecticut’s death penalty statute given the horrific nature of their crimes?”

When you’re a criminal-defense lawyer, sometimes you have to just soak up the ignorance, suspicion, anger, and fear of this part of the populace. There’s little you can do to change their minds, and you know they’re going to be carrying these attitudes into the courtroom when they’re called for jury duty. You’re not going to change their minds there either, so shutting up and letting them rant is good practice for drawing them out in voir dire.

One thing that will change their attitudes is getting charged — or having a loved one charged — with a crime. In the last 12 years I’ve probably helped more than 3,000 people (some clients, but most nonclients seeking advice) with their own or their loved ones’ criminal problems. Not one of these people has suggested that I get a real job. Never have they suggested that if I am successful I might be responsible for the later crimes that the accused might commit. Some of these people, I have to believe, were angry toward and distrustful of criminal-defense lawyers before the system affected them (as a professional student of human nature, I’ve reached the conclusion that, generally, those who bellow loudest for retribution have the most to hide; they protest too much). The remedy for their attitudes is harsh but remarkably efficacious.

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