The Criminal Defense Lawyer’s Dilemma

It was a kid case. The child took the stand and told the jury what “daddy did to her.” And that’s all they needed. Despite the inconsistencies and the far-fetched story, the jury convicted our client.

It wasn’t until a couple days later that it hit me. I don’t know why it took that long, but it did. I was in the kitchen, pretending to help with dinner, when I lost it. I cried. I couldn’t help it. It just didn’t make sense. Why? How? What could we have done differently? Is this line of work for me?

I confided in my co-counsel the next day and this is what she said:

“I want to pour myself into criminal defense so I can prevent innocent people from going to jail, but I also want to run from it because it crushes your soul.”

That’s the dilemma.

As a criminal defense lawyer, some days you feel on top of the world, but other days you leave court in tears. It’s a tough job. Scratch that. It’s a tough life. There’s no such thing as leaving work at the office; your cases are always with you and the pressure of being the only one between your client and a jail cell never ceases.

Some preach that the jury is always right and that when they render their verdict, we should accept it and move on. I call bullshit. It’s a nice thing to say to make yourself feel better (especially after you lose), but a cop-out nonetheless. Don’t fool yourself. Juries are made up of people, just like you and me. Sometimes they get it right and sometimes they royally screw up.

When they do screw up (and they will), you have two choices: “pour yourself into it or run because it crushes your soul.” There’s no in-between; clients deserve zealous representation. It’s as simple as this: get after it or get out.

My client is in jail for something–I believe–he didn’t do. It sucks. I’ll probably never get over it. My choices, however, remain the same.

I’ve committed to the former. It’s a hard life. Some days are awesome; some days blow. Is it worth it? I’ll post my answer once it’s over 😉

To those continuing to fight the good fight, I salute you.