Into the Breach
Perhaps the greatest calamity that can befall a human being in our society is to be charged with a criminal offense. Based on mere accusations, the government, through the machinery of criminal prosecution, focuses its formidable powers against the individual. Amassed against the accused will be the prosecutor, the police and often times the general public.
The process may rend apart the accused’s family, alienate his friends and destroy his own feelings of self worth. He will be forced to undergo public proceedings, many of which he may not understand, and in which the prosecution will constantly point the accusatory finger as if to say ‘By his deeds, he is no longer one of us.’
Very often the stakes are high. A judgment against the accused may require him to forfeit his property, his freedom, even his life. Into this breach steps defense counsel.
Sworn to protect the client’s interests to the best defense the law will allow no matter what the personal costs. Armed with little more than his wits and his knowledge of the criminal law, he will become the voice through which the accused will, in effect, do battle with the awesome powers of his own government. Our adversary system requires no less than that defense counsel become a “brother in arms” to the accused in this battle.
Defense counsel must be prepared to stand and fight for his client against public outcry; he must stand and fight for his client throughout his trial; and he must stand and fight for his client at the time final judgment is entered. Such a system is not efficient. It is not designed for ‘swift justice.’ Indeed, some would say that it is not designed for ‘justice’ at all.
But if posterity judges a free society by how it treats it individual members, it should be of considerable consolation to us all that our system does not require an accused to stand alone.