Thursday, August 8, 2013

Ethics and death

What is one to do?

You are hired to represent a client accused of killing several people and wounding others. Your client is facing the death penalty. He fires you prior to trial but the judge orders you to remain on the case to provide assistance. Your client has no legal training. He fails to challenge any jurors for cause during voir dire. At trial he admits to the murders.

How can you ethically sit by and participate in a trial in which your (former) client seems to be begging to be strapped down and killed?

That's just the position that Nidal Hasan's former attorneys find themselves in.

To continue their "representation" merely legitimizes the proceedings. To withdraw leaves their (former) client to twist in the wind until such time as he is sentenced to death.

As defense attorneys we are obligated to defend our clients as vigorously as possible. It is our duty to leave no stone unturned during the process. We are trained to be strong advocates for our clients. When a client is facing a certain conviction, our job is to mitigate the damage as much as possible. When he's facing death - our job is to save his life.

But what happens when our client wants to be murdered by the government?

If you sit down at the table and let him do his thing the end result will be a guilty verdict and a death sentence. After all, he is the one trying the case, devising strategy and advocating for himself. You are reduced to a legal assistant - helping him make objections and enter items into evidence.

If you walk away he will be convicted - by his own words - and he will be executed. But it may be the only way to save him, or to delay the inevitable.

Of course your client denies having a death wish. He says he has a strategy. He argues to the judge that he needs you to stay on the case.

Today the judge will decide whether Mr. Hasan's attorneys will be mere witnesses to a murder or whether he should be left to his own devices. How does she work through her own ethical dilemma?

Is she more interested in seeing that this abstract notion is justice is done or in moving her docket?

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