Defense counsel here. This page brings me warmth and joy. That is all.
“How can you defend someone like that?” is the core of the lawyer’s bad reputation. The “good lawyers” in popular culture are the exceptions that prove the rule.
It’s represented in To Kill a Mockingbird, Daredevil, A Few Good Men: the “good lawyer” defends the “good client.” Perhaps most interesting (spoiler alert!), the “bad lawyer” Kevin Lomax in The Devil’s Advocate reforms and does “the right thing” by abandoning his client.
Most people consider themselves “good guys,” and thus identify more with the victim of a crime than with the defendant. They don’t realize that every “bad guy” that gets off represents the integrity of a principle of due process that ultimately serves to protect the innocent from false convictions. By protecting his client in this case, the defense counsel protects due process overall.
Actually, what really pisses people off about defense attorneys is when they got someone off through the exclusion of evidence because of technical improprieties in evidence collection; when people talk about a criminal getting off on a technicality, this is usually what they are referring to. The problem with the exclusionary rule is that it only protects the guilty. If the police kick in the door to your house, toss everything you own out on your front lawn, and do this in front of all your neighbors, and don’t find any evidence against you, the exclusionary rule doesn’t help you. Likewise, if the police have a technically proper warrant, but plant evidence during the search, the exclusionary rule won’t help you (If you can prove that the evidence was planted, the judge will exclude it, but, honestly, if the police were planting evidence against you, you probably want the jury to hear about that). The only way the exclusionary rule helps you is if there is a technical impropriety in the search, and the police find real evidence against you. And the latter condition usually means that you are guilty. Furthermore, the exclusion of evidence owing to errors by the police doesn’t punish the police; it punishes the public. In short, the exclusion of evidence is almost never an appropriate remedy.
It does, however, give incentive to the state to gather evidence responsibly.
The exclusionary rule works on the same principles as the entire criminal justice system. It is a deterrent and retribution against the cops for doing something they weren’t supposed to do. It is a wrist slap, but it generally works well because it causes the defendent to go free when the cops felt strongly enough about arresting them to go over the line.
The theory is that police abuse would be far more common and a lot worse without these rules. To be honest, in this case, we are probably dealing with the one check on police power that actually has much impact at all.
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