the city chicken

morality and “the question”
08 27 2007, 9:54 am
Filed under: ideas, random info

What a feeling – I am here at school early like I have intended and I am already done studying for my only class today and have very little reading left to do for tomorrows class and I have two and a half hours of study time left! This is going to be fabulous once I need to begin working on moot court.

So I wanted to discuss a question that lawyers are often asked of by non-lawyers. It is a question I myself was asked on Saturday in my professional responsibility class by the professor. The professor first asked the class generally who wanted to be a criminal defense attorney. I was one of three who raised a hand. The professor looked directly at me and asked “what do you tell family and friends when they ask ‘how could you defend someone you know is guilty'”?

I answered in a somewhat “classical” fashion; that I believe the system works and in order for it to work in the way intended, everyone deserves and must have their day in court. Today it is someone guilty but tomorrow it may not be. If the standards are lowered for one, they can be lowered for all.

My criminal procedure book and my professional responsibility book call the people who ask this morally entrenched question “lay persons”. I think this is a condescending way of looking at it. Not only do non-lawyers often ask this question, but academics have pondered it for centuries. There must be something more to this question of morality. Is the question “how can I help someone guilty to not be punished” or is the question “do I condone the actions of the party”?

While these questions may be legitimate, I don’t think they represent the real question within all of us. The majority of the population wants no association to these people at all, none the less a seemingly sympathetic one! I think the real question has to do with our own feelings of not wanting to appear apart from the crowd, not wanting to be labeled, not wanting to be cast out from society.

Today on my way to school I passed a woman walking who was trying to cross the street. She appeared to be in her fifties and I say that she was “trying” to cross the road because it appeared to be a serious undertaking for her. She was clearly being tortured and tormented by something that was in her mind and her mind alone. She looked terrified as she sped up, slowed down, and swatted at the air. She turned quickly to face her “tormentor” and then tried to race away from “it”. The rush hour traffic sped by and so did I, leaving her in the middle of a street in one of the worst parts of town. We don’t want to see her, just like we don’t want to see the criminals. Maybe one day she will become a “criminal” – attacking a real person rather than just the air. Is there anyone out there who disagrees with me that she deserves someone by her side should she ever face the possibility of criminal charges? I doubt it. But they will say she is an exception, she is “sick”. She needs medical care and she certainly shouldn’t be placed in the same kind of place as rapists and murderers. But who is going to point that out? Police would be doing their job arresting someone for assault, the prosecutor is busy cracking down on crime, the judge is seeing how many cases today? While all of these people have a responsibility to watch out for the exceptions to the rule, if it were you, wouldn’t you want someone exclusively on your side?

No, the system doesn’t always work just like every system on the planet. That is why we need people who want to see it work take part.


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