How Can Lawyers Represent Guilty People?

“How can you represent guilty people?” is a question I get from time-to-time from non-lawyer friends, or even lawyer friends who don’t do criminal defense work. The short answer is, “I don’t decide who’s guilty; juries do.” The long answer is, after fifteen years of this I’ve represented a fair number of people who “everyone knew” were guilty. In some of these cases, “everyone knew” my client had committed some pretty horrific crimes. Except, as it turned out, “everyone” was wrong. It turned out, in some of these cases, that my client hadn’t done anything, despite the fact that “everyone” had already decided he or she was guilty. In Texas, there have been an alarming number of people in the last few years who spent decades in prison because “everyone” knew they were guilty, only to find out that “everyone” was wrong. Because of people like those, I’ve learned not to pay too much attention to what “everyone” knows. The longer answer is, in our system everyone gets a fair trial. Everyone. Doesn’t matter what they are accused of, doesn’t matter how overwhelming the evidence is against them; everyone gets a fair trial. That’s how the system works and it’s the only way the system can work. If we start deciding that this guy doesn’t get a fair trial because he confessed, or that lady doesn’t get a lawyer because we’ve got her on store video, than the concept of innocent until proven guilty means nothing. It’s the government’s job to prove that someone is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The government has 100% of the burden. The defendant doesn’t have to prove a thing. He doesn’t have to testify. He doesn’t even have to put on a case at all. He’s protected by the presumption of innocence and the burden of proof. That’s how the system works and that’s the only way the system can work. So, short story long, that is how I can represent people that everyone knows are guilty.


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