A Former Prosecutor Defending Clients in Wyoming and South Dakota
Criminal defense lawyers are a funny lot – we spend an awful lot of time thinking and talking and arguing about whether our clients are guilty. But oddly enough, we’re probably the last people who are concerned with whether you actually did what the police and prosecution claim you did. Of course, this isn’t to say we don’t care about our clients. Quite the opposite, in fact. But people need to understand that criminal defense lawyers are generally less concerned with factual guilt, and instead are focused on legal guilt.
Legal guilt - what the prosecution can prove beyond a reasonable doubt - is a criminal defense lawyer's stock and trade. This is different from whether you actually did what the police and prosecutor say you did. We'll never truly know whether you did what you're accused of doing. In fact, a lot of times, we don't even ask.
From our perspective, just because the police, the prosecution, or anyone else says you did something does not make it so. Sometimes, a criminal defendant may lie about a crime to protect a family member or friend. Other times, someone is guilty of a crime, but it's a different crime than the one they are on trial for. Or, the defendant may have done the act in question, but has a legally valid defense that makes them not guilty of committing the crime.
So, anyone wondering, "What if my criminal defense attorney thinks I'm guilty?" should keep all this in mind. Criminal defense lawyers rarely ask whether our clients "committed the crime." Instead, we ask what happened, look at the evidence, and try to put on the best defense we can. That’s why our clients hire us, it's what the Constitution requires, and it's our job.
Criminal defense lawyers are committed to the process. We believe that every person, regardless of guilt, is Constitutionally entitled to a zealous legal defense. Our Founding Fathers believed that the role of a criminal defense attorney was such an important job, and so fundamentally important to a free society, that they wrote it into the Constitution. The Sixth Amendment says that the accused are entitled to "the assistance of counsel for his defense." That's us.
The Sixth Amendment has been interpreted many times in the more than 250 years since the founding of our nation. But the principle remains - a criminal defense lawyer takes an oath and has an obligation to be a zealous advocate on behalf of her client, regardless of whether we think you did whatever you're accused of. When the vast and virtually unlimited resources of the government are arrayed against you, your criminal defense lawyer will stand up and fight for you, no matter what.
Criminal defense lawyers can trace this tradition back to before our country was even founded. John Adams, the second President of the United States, famously put this ideal to the test when he defended British soldiers who were accused of killing American colonists in the Boston Massacre. Adams was so committed to the ideal of justice that he made it his duty to see that the British soldiers received a zealous legal defense. Adams knew that defending the British soldiers would be unpopular. He knew that taking the case might put his future political career at risk. And he knew that he might jeopardize his safety and that of his family. But he took the case because he knew that allowing the accused to be convicted in an unfair trial would put an ugly stain on our young country, and that it was critical that the accused receive a fair trial, represented by competent counsel. Adams took the unpopular case, and he won.
Many people charged with a crime wonder what they should tell their lawyer, and how much. First, understand that criminal defense lawyers have seen and heard it all. Second, we are more concerned with legal guilt - what the prosecution can prove - and less concerned with factual guilt. But also understand that there are limits to what we are allowed to do.
A criminal defense attorney is not allowed to lie to the judge or jury, or specifically state that you did not do something the lawyer knows that you did. That's one reason many criminal defense lawyers intentionally do not ask whether their client ‘did it.’ When we argue on our client’s behalf, question a witness, or even question the defendant him- or herself, we don't truly know whether the person is lying. Instead, we can use our trial tactics and argument to focus on the prosecution’s short-comings, and highlight how the government failed to prove every element of its case.
A good criminal defense lawyer will rarely ask “Did my client do it?” Instead, we're more concerned with the question “Can the government prove that my client did it?” We're here to safeguard the ideal that a criminal defendant is not guilty until a prosecutor offers enough evidence to persuade a judge or jury to convict.
If you’ve been charged with a crime in Wyoming, you need an experienced team of criminal defense professionals who will work hard to give you your one and only shot at justice.
Based in Gillette, Wyoming, Just Criminal Law represents people in Northeast Wyoming and Western South Dakota. Call 307-686-6556, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or complete our online form to schedule a free initial consultation with our team of experienced criminal defense professionals.
DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this article is offered for educational purposes only. This information is not offered as legal advice. A person accused of a crime should always consult with an attorney before making decisions that have legal consequences.