Friday, July 24, 2009

Presumed innocent?

I'm a defense attorney. I'm supposed to believe that we are all innocent unless proven guilty beyond all reasonable doubt. That's what I say when I walk into the courtroom.

That's what I say even when I know that my client was too drunk to drive.

And I believe it when I say it.

I'm not defending my client's actions, I'm defending our constitutional rights by putting the state to its burden.

Then why is it so hard to say it when the alleged wrongdoer is a police officer? Why am I so willing to believe what I read in the paper about his alleged misdeeds? Why does the same mechanism that starts ticking off possible defenses, explanations and excuses when a client sits down across from me shut down when the alleged wrongdoer is a police officer?

5 comments:

Rick Horowitz said...

Because, as a defense attorney, you see something the general public generally doesn't: cops lying and getting away with it.

It grates. You start to hope for them to get their come-uppance. Not very fair of us (criminal defense attorneys), but understandable, I think, in light of all they get away with on a daily basis.

And, perhaps, we also realize that for a POLICE OFFICER to be charged with a crime, things must have been pretty darned bad!

Houston DWI Attorney Paul B. Kennedy, said...

Thanks for your comment. I think there's also an underlying sense of fairness at play. I have no patience or empathy for corrupt cops or politicians. They were handed a public trust and pissed on it.

I have the same lack of compassion for men such as Bernie Madoff and his ilk. They, too, violated a trust (even though their victims were all too often the victims of their own greed).

Cyn said...

I agree - it is hard for me to presume a cop is telling the truth about anything. They start behind for me. I can presume them innocent, because other cops who are just as likely to lie, will be testifying.

In my recent trial, I had 3 jury panels. There were lawyers in all 3. I got at least 4 of them struck for cause on the 5th. (And the one who made the jury was one of the ones who wanted to convict!) We lawyers are people & just because we know how it is supposed to be, we also know how it really is . . . I'm with you & Rick.

John_David_Galt said...

In most cases where a cop is charged with something, the reasonableness of the cop's actions relies on the assumption that his opponent was guilty of something.

It seems to me self-evident that the system has a positive duty to presume innocence on the part of the ordinary citizen -- and that, since the cop is acting in the name of that system, any presumption that the cop is innocence must yield to the presumption that the ordinary citizen is innocent.

Or to put it another way: Cops are granted the power to use force. That makes them inherently less trustworthy than anyone else -- not more trustworthy. The law has no business giving them immunity from prosecution or lawsuit (or, equivalently, giving police departments a monopoly on the right to prosecute).

The same goes for politicians, too. The only difference between a politician (or for that matter, a lobbyist) and a cop is that the politician employs other people as his means of using force. This is morally the same thing as doing it himself.

Jeff Gamso said...

We're trained to distrust the police (and likely inclined that way anyhow if we're serious about being criminal defense lawyers).

But there's this, too: The allegedly law-breaking cop is not (at least not when you first see the story in the paper) your client, is not sitting down across from you.

I'd wager that when you read about the guy who's arrested while still at the scene of the crime you don't routinely wonder if they caught the right guy, either.