Law Offices of Gerard F. Lane
How can an attorney defend someone he believes
(or even knows) is __ "guilty" ?
This is by far the most frequently asked question of criminal defense lawyers. There is an array of answers generally given to that question and most of them are boilerplate, such as “it is guaranteed by the Constitution”, or, “every person deserves a zealous defense”. I always found these answers to be a bit cold and not very informative.
I have practiced criminal law among my other areas of practice since my very first case. In doing so I have learned a few things from experience that should answer the above question more fully.
First - the term “criminal defendant” is somewhat of a misnomer. Someone is only a "criminal" after a trial or a plea. If we do a thorough job, that person may never be a criminal anything. It is a disturbing fact for some perhaps, but sometimes the person the police arrest and the one the state openly accuses of doing something awful, in fact didn’t do anything wrong at all. Unlike the accused who are merely not guilty - meaning the State could not prove they broke the law – these people are actually innocent.
Once the wheels are set in motion however, it is a rare circumstance that the State will stop what it is doing and not continue to prosecute this person. With or without ego, a train on a track is hard to stop, and it is generally not the job of the state to stop it. It is the responsibility and privilege of the criminal defense bar, and no one else, to defend and at times to rescue the falsely accused. And this aspect of law is all too often overlooked. It may be rare (one would hope) but it does happen that innocent men/women are at times caught up in the broad dragnet of the prosecutorial system.
In point of fact, in my very first case I actually defended an innocent man. I cannot say that is always the way, but when it is, it is a privilege to see the system work - as it did for him.
Second - it is easy to sit in judgment of someone who has truly done wrong. However, many people who do things criminal have true awakenings when they are caught. Jail and Court can be sobering experiences. I would have to say that a majority of my criminal clients have been in the ages of 18 to 30. Unlike most of us, they just didn’t “get it” early on. They can however “see the light” and turn their lives around if they are ready, and if they have the right advocate. There are a lot of resources in the system itself, they just need to be shown the way.
When I defend a guilty person, and particularly one whom I know the State has the evidence to put in jail, I can show that person how to turn it around if they are ready. I have done it, and I have seen people with relatively frequent brushes with the law finally join society and start again. In many ways that experience is more rewarding than simply “winning” the case. The real win is when I meet someone years later at their job, or for a coffee, or with their family - someone who has joined society. Everyone wins that way.
Lastly - the State has to have viable competition to stay sharp. If we do not challenge the State, much like in martial arts, the State becomes sloppy. A solid defense bar is the best way to keep the State strong, and that ensures that the guilty go to jail, but (hopefully) not the innocent. Alternatively, we would wind up with guilt by accusation, not guilt by evidence - and that would not be justice.
- Gerard F. Lane II
Felony Larceny Dismissed
Malicious Destruction of Property Defense Verdict - Trial
Assault and Battery Defense Verdict - Hearing
OUI/DWI Defense Verdict – Trial
Leaving the scene of an accident Dismissed
Larceny Dismissed - on restitution
Larceny by Check/Forgery Dismissed - on restitution
Possession - Class A/C (hard drugs) Plea – no jail time
Possession - Class D (marijuana) Plea – no jail time
Probation Violations Plea – no jail time