The Role of the Defense Attorney

December 15, 2011

Dirty Hands


When a defense attorney gets their client off scot-free from a serious charge, is he or she committing an act of dirty hands or is it a cut and dry circumstance of evil going unpunished? Let’s look at the charges brought upon Casey Anthony who was acquitted of murder this past July.

For those of you who don’t know the background to the story, Casey Anthony was charged with the murder of her 2 year old daughter and in the months leading up to the verdict it appeared that she had indeed committed the crime that she was accused of.  Despite the fact that the opinion of the media and the general public who followed the case were heavily in favor of a guilty verdict, her defense team led by attorney Jose Baez were able to convince the jury to acquit her of the murder charge (she was convicted of lesser charges but was let off with credit for time served).

Beyond the question of what could have possibly gone wrong for our legal system to fail and allow such a horrific act to go unpunished (assuming she did it), does this acquittal serve any greater purpose for society in general? Many defense attorneys justify their position by stating that everyone deserves fair representation, and that their position as devil’s advocate strengthens our legal system by putting pressure on the prosecution to prove beyond any reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the act.

This brings us back to the question of what happens when the system fails: did Jose Baez dirty his hands by “winning” the case or was this nothing more than a tragic miscarriage of justice?

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5 Comments on “The Role of the Defense Attorney”

  1. albosco Says:

    I think that there are a lot of flaws in our legal system that often leads it to fail serving justice. This is a clear example of one of them. The was a lot of evidence that proved Casey Anthony was guilty of murder, but she was still let off. This is just one case that was blown up in the media. I am sure there are cases similar to this everyday. But who is to blame for stuff like this? There is no way of guaranteeing that our justice system will succeed every time, and there is really no way of fixing this.

    When someone decides they want to be a criminal defense attorney, they have to know what they are getting themselves into. They are trying to get people out of being punished for the crimes that they committed. In a sense, I think it is impossible to be a defense attorney without having “dirty hands”. They are accepting the fact that they might have to mislead and trick people into believing something that isn’t always true.

  2. ryanjcarney Says:

    I don’t see Jose Baez’s hands as dirty. If she was in fact guilty, then that’s merely a miscarriage of justice. Assuming she was guilty, if anyone’s not be criticized it’s the prosecution, not the defense. It’s the prosecution’s job to show to the jury and/or judge beyond a questionable doubt. The burden of proof is on them. If she was guilty and it was obvious the prosecution did not meet its duty and the defense’s hands should not be considered dirty.

    There’s always that chance that a defense team may be defending someone guilty of breaking the law but that comes with the territory of the job – under our legal system everyone has the right to an attorney knowledgeable in the law to defend them. Sometimes justice is not met but hey, that’s something we have to accept with our legal system, nothing’s perfect.

  3. michaelgerlach Says:

    Our legal system has been founded on the notion of innocent until proven guilty. That makes the role of the prosecuting attorney that much more difficult. It is their job to prove to the jury without a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty. The fact that it is a jury of your peers is also another major role in our judicial process. All of these checks and balances during our court proceedings is to insure that an innocent man or woman doesn’t go to jail for something they didn’t do.

    Now all of this is great for defending the innocent but it does tend to help the guilty as well and when you get highly publicized cases such as the Casey Anthony trial it makes it seem that much more outrageous. It was the same result in the 90’s with the OJ Simpson trial. What needs to be recognized is Jose Baez is only guilty of doing his job well. Also the public needs to realize that this system has been in place for over 200 years and while there have been a few instances of perceived “lapses” in the system, it’s one of the world’s most esteemed judicial processes for a reason.

  4. jrphilli Says:

    I do not believe that her lawyer dirtied his hands by getting her acquitted because her being acquitted did not help anyone else in the end. I believe that defense attorneys are rieeded. Everyone does deserve a fair trial. Everyone is innocent until proven gulity. So, if we did not have someone defending them, a lot of innocent peope would be in prison. Defense attorneys have dirty hands because they have gotten people off jail time, who did commit the crime, but that is a slap in the prosecuters face because they did not do a good enough job to prove them guilty. But the idea that defense attorneys are there to push the prosecuters to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that that person is guilty, is good. Everybody is there to make sure that everybody does their job.

  5. drainey323 Says:

    I do not believe that this is an instance of dirty hands. Dirty hands implies that someone does something immoral or goes against the ethical standard for the greater good. Everyone has a right to attorney and due process, and it is a defense attorney’s job to make sure that right is fulfilled. So this instance is simply one of the many miscarriages of our justice system.

    However, I do think this could have been an issue of dirty hands if Jose Baez were to purposely throw the trial or provide evidence to the prosecution to help convict Casey Anthony. This would be dirty hands because it goes against the ethics of a defense attorney in order to put away a murderer for the greater good, assuming she was guilty. The issue here would be whether or not Jose did the “right” thing. Many probably would view this as the right thing since he helped get a murderer off the streets (again assuming she was guilty), but he violated the foundation of what our justice system has been built on for years. Something interesting to think about.

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