The last sentence of the Oath of Admission to the Florida Bar embodies one of the fundamental principles of being an attorney,“I will never reject, from any consideration personal to myself, the cause of the defenseless or oppressed, or delay anyone’s cause for lucre or malice.”
Everyday the defenseless or oppressed become entangled in the complex criminal justice system. Criminal defense lawyers execute a number of tasks in the defense of the innocent, but at the core of a defense attorney’s job lies an unwavering commitment to defending average people that have been accused of crimes.
Evaluating the Accused’s Side of the Story
One cornerstone of our judicial system is the presumption that an individual accused of a crime, also referred to as a defendant, is innocent until proven guilty, but this principle has become less prevalent as throughout our country’s history. Often, very little weight is given to the defendant’s recollection or account of the events leading up to his or her arrest. Therefore, defense attorneys, unlike many others, evaluates the account of a person accused of a crime and compares it with the evidence collected in connection with the crime.
Gathering and Evaluating Evidence
Police officers and state prosecutors are trained not to reject evidence or suspects without proof that the suspect could not have commited the crime or the evidence is not relevant or accurate. Unfortunately, police officers and state prosecutors can both suffer from tunnel vision that leads them to reject or not even consider certain suspects or evidence, because they have already come to the conclusion that the criminal has been arrested.
Criminal defense lawyers conduct investigations and evaluations based on the presumption of innocence. During this process, the strength of physical evidence is evaluated, eye witness accounts are reviewed, and new evidence and witnesses that weaken the state’s claims are gathered.
According to the innocence project, a legal organization that works to exonerate wrongfully convicted prisoners, 358 people have been exonerated based on DNA evidence. Of the 358 cases, 71% involved witness misidentifications by eyewitnesses. Statistics such as these shed light on the fact that someone is not always guilty of a crime, because a witness stated that they saw someone commit a crime. Moreover, it demonstrates why every individual facing criminal charges needs a defense attorney that will evaluate evidence in an objective unbiased manner and defend the accused.
Presenting a Defense at Trial
Thomas Jefferson, during the time the U.S. Constitution was being drafted, once said “ I consider that [trial by jury] as the only anchor, ever yet imagined by man, by which a government can be held to the principles of it’s constitution”. The trial by jury is a concept in our judicial system that pre-dates the creation of the United States.
A criminal defense lawyer’s abilities and functions within the judicial system become apparent at trial. This involves presenting the defendant’s case and evidence with calculated and convincing arguments, cross examining witnesses, and the preparation and filing of pleadings in connection with witnesses, evidence, and trial procedure. These functions and others are what comprise an effective criminal defense.
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