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Tuesday, March 31, 2020
Home Op-Ed Columns Opinion on Page One Do not blame a lawyer

Do not blame a lawyer


NO matter how unpopular a client might be, it is one of the blessings of a system that goes by the rule of law that such a person is entitled to the competent assistance of counsel.

It is never right for counsel to foist on the court a falsehood. That would be to violate his oath. But it is correct for counsel to rely on the presumption of innocence, and to leave it to the prosecution to endeavor to prove the guilt of his client beyond reasonable doubt. Very importantly, he must test the credibility of witnesses against his client by a withering cross-examination, if necessary.

The first job of the lawyer is to see to it that his client enjoys all the rights that the law bestows on him. This includes the right to be duly informed of the charges against him, the right against arbitrary and illegal arrests, and the right to have competent evidence adduced and the right to object to inadmissible evidence

Even when the client confides to the lawyer that he is guilty, the lawyer’s job does not cease. Where evidence in violation of the rules is adduced against his client, the lawyer must object. When the client makes an uncounseled confession, he must move that this be expunged from the records. Where the prosecution fails to muster proof beyond reasonable doubt, the lawyer must ask for an acquittal. Wherever a correct legal defense exists, the lawyer must duly plead the defense in proper form.

It is not for the lawyer to disclose to the court the guilt his client has admitted. Neither is it for him to waylay the appreciation of admissible and competent evidence, much less is it ethical for him to cause the destruction of documents and objects that may inculpate his client. But he must stand for the rights of client — as these rights are guaranteed him by the Constitution and the rules of procedure.

Judicial proceedings establish a salutary gap between the actions of the accused and the impulses of the public, the visceral reactions especially of those injured so that it is justice, not vengeance, that is achieved. Neither should the law that credits good behavior towards the reduction of prison time be faulted. In most penal systems, this is accepted. If there are cases that we consider too heinous to be covered by the beneficial provisions of the law, that is a legislative matter, a matter of policy that should find its way into the law, if it hasn’t already. But whether the law should apply or not should never be made to depend on uproarious public condemnation or popular endorsement. That might seem like being democratic, but it is the antithesis to the rule of law.

Do not blame a lawyer for working within the limits of the law — with its blessings and frailties. That is his job.

In The Gulag Archipelago, Solzhenitsyn writes about the good fortune of those who, when charged with an offense, can count on the assistance of a lawyer to advocate for them. Though we may labor from many woes, this is one of the blessings we enjoy. Let us not begrudge it.

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