In an effort to explain away how criminal defense attorneys can do what they do, an op-ed in the Washington Post outlandishly sought to equate the acquitted Robert Zimmerman to accused serial rapist Ariel Castro and Boston bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
Abbe Smith, a professor of law and the director of the Criminal Defense & Prisoner Advocacy Clinic at Georgetown University, lumped the innocent Zimmerman in with rapist Castro and bomber Tsnaraev in a July 25 editorial titled, “What motivates a criminal defense lawyer to defend a Tsarnaev, a Castro or a Zimmerman?“
The editorial attempts to delve into the complicated reasons for how criminal defense attorneys can make a living defending those that many compassionate people can’t rise to defend themselves.
In the first instance, Smith asks the rhetorical question of how defense attorneys can put aside their humanity long enough to defend bombing suspect Tsarnaev.
The professor continues asking, “Likewise, how can the lawyers representing Cleveland’s Ariel Castro fight for the alleged serial kidnapper and rapist? And what about the attorneys for the recently acquitted but still controversial George Zimmerman? Do they really believe he is completely innocent of any wrongdoing in shooting an unarmed teen?”
Of course, Zimmerman’s case is nowhere near in the same category as the morally reprehensible cases of accused rapist Castro’s or bomber Tsarnarev’s. If the latter two are deemed guilty there will be no such mitigating factor as the legitimate claim of self-defense made by someone such as Zimmerman.
But to explain away the motivations of how a criminal defense lawyer can do his job and still retain his humanity, Smith contends that such lawyers actually come to “like” their clients. This, Smith says, makes the accused seem human to lawyers instead of seeming like monsters.
In her editorial Smith appears to contend that this ability to like something in their clients is necessary to make the justice system work.
But this is hardly so. A robust defense is necessary equally for the individual criminal being charged as it is to assure us all that our system won’t become so lazy that it begins convicting people with little or no effort to prove guilt.
Criminal defense attorneys do not have to “like” their clients at all. Defense lawyers must love the system and the law and must relish their role to act as a bulwark against lazy prosecution. This keeps the system on its toes so that it doesn’t too easily convict people, an action that would surely lead to many false convictions. That is good for all of us and really is all we need.