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21 Defense Lawyers Share What It's Like Defending Guilty Clients

Defense lawyers have some steeled resolve. They wrestle with all kinds of crazed revelations from people looking to live their lives outside the cold metal bars that a law-abiding society would possibly, like to see them behind. In the case of these guilty clients, you're apt to learn a thing or two, about what you can expect from a defense lawyer, if you ever find yourself in need of one. 

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  • 1
    Text - Photonanc6 6d The State has to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. They have the burden, not the defense. Additionally, an attorney is ethically required to zealously advocate for their client and cannot minimize his/her effort. In some instances, an attorney may tell a client to not tell them what they, the client, did in order to evaluate the strength of the State's case.
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  • 2
    Text - godbullseye 6d My girlfriend is a public defender and she always told me that she doesn't have to like her clients but she has to make sure they have a fair trial.
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  • 3
    Text - A_well_made_pinata 6d Not a lawyer but I sat on a jury for a murder sentencing trial. The guy confessed and there were 15 witnesses who watched him shoot a young father of 3 at a baby shower while on a meth bender. I'll give his lawyer credit, he earned his fee. I think he was going for a ten year sentence versus life. He brought in a psychologist explaining how the guy's IQ was so low he couldn't be held responsible. Guy's mom was on the stand crying about how terrible a mother she was a
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  • 4
    Text - johnpgreen 6d Almost all clients are factually guilty of the crime. Doesn't matter. My role is to defend the constitution and the rights it gives them, whether or not they actually committed the crime is mildly interesting to me at best. What it comes down to, is I love my country and the ideals it espouses. And the way I can give back to it is by preventing the government for becoming a tyranny. I know it seems silly, maybe romanticized, but if you don't stop the small stuff, such as an
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  • 5
    Text - -iMartijn S I used to give some judicial advice (not in the US) and I think you have the wrong idea about lawyers. It's not their job to prove someone is innocent, it is to defend the rights of the defendant. That means for instance that the 2 7d procedures must be correct, and that the state does its job of building up a reasonable case. And if the person is guilty, he or she still needs a fair trial and a fair sentence.
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  • 6
    Text - murderousbudgie 7d It's about holding the state accountable. I don't care if my guy did it. If we let the state lock him up without doing its job properly, that means next week it could be you, or me, or your mom that gets sent up for something we didn't do.
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  • 7
    Text - OldOlleboMP 6d I'm late to the party but one thing I've noticed is missing from many top comments is discussion of a lawyers ethical obligations to the bar and to the court. If your client confesses his guilt to you, you cannon elicit false testimony from your client on the stand. You cannot knowingly present false information to the court and if you become aware of that falsity after the fact, you have an obligation to correct the record. It can get comicated with things like your client
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  • 8
    Text - roryismysuperhero 4 3 6d Public defender here. I describe my job as part doctor, part tour guide. Like a doctor, sometimel can cure you but sometimes I can just try to make it hurt less. Sometimes I can't do either. Then I'm a tour guide who makes sure that you understand what is happening, why it is happening, and try to give you as much choice in the matter as possible. At the very least, I sit next to you in court so you don't have to face the judge by yourself
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  • 9
    Text - djdrcoolfresh 7d The point of a defence lawyer is not to get people off their sentence but to ensure the right to fair trial is upheld. Defence lawyers in that situation will be looking for leniency in sentencing to make sure the justice process doesn't become vindictive or vengeful
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  • 10
    Text - Killdoc 6d When I started my first week of Medical School, one of the Dean came to chat with my class. He related a story regarding his first day in Medical School ages before. His class was required to sit at their desk and contemplate something his professor had written on the chalkboard. Primum non nocere , which in Latin means "first, to do no harm. This, of course is part of the Hippocratic Oath. He told us that he felt deeply moved by this concept. Later that day, he ran into a clos
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  • 11
    Text - badtripssuck 6 I had a lawyer. I confessed to my grand theft auto to my lawyer but I was with 4 others who did it. We spoke of plea options but he wanted to wait and grant continuances to see how the other cases were built. I ended up getting off like a year and a half later. One guy plead guilty and got safe house, another got probation and two of us got off completely. I never had to speak in court other than to ask for continuances when he was unable to make it. Then it just got droppe
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  • 12
    Text - emm_tru 6d I'm a forensic social worker. AKA, I work in prison hospitals for those who are extremely ill. I do have a few clients who I think are innocent despite jury verdict and sometimes I have to take the stand as an expert witness to describe their mental illness. One person confessed to raping over 20 children and as an expert witness I had to defend him (because of my client laws). I couldn't use anything he told me in trial because of the HIPAA law. On the other hand, I have had i
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  • 13
    Text - If they admit guilt you have an ethical duty to not make false representations to the court. You have to work your best with the laws you have to make some sort of defense. You can argue that the law is unconstitutional, that he is insane etc. etc. But you can't lie and say he is innocent. Frequently, I do not ask outright if someone did it or not. You can sort of tell. For example, you can ask, "would you be willing to submit to a polygraph test about that?" And if they say no, you can b
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  • 14
    Text - mendeus195 6d So I have a customer who is a defence lawyer(we'll call him Joe) and I had a long talk about this same thing with hima couple of weeks ago. Joe said that he never asks, and borderline avoids his client telling him if they are guilty or not. Knowing puts the lawyer in an ethical conundrum where he cannot put his client on the stand allowing him to lie. Joe told me that the one time his client told him he was guilty, Joe got himself removed from the case.
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  • 15
    Text - hastur777 6d Everyone deserves a defense. It's less about the defendant and more about making sure the state proves its case and can't railroad any defendants.
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  • 16
    Text - RacistJudicata 6d I make sure I hold the government to their standards at every single level from the cops to the government janitors to the prosectors and judge. I don't care if the guy did it, I care if he's getting treated fairly every step of the way and not getting punished too severely. I live by Blackstone's theorem, which makes it hurt more if they didn't do it
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  • 17
    Text - Deonyi 6d In Australia, if a barrister's client confesses to the crime but insists on maintaining a plea of not guilty, the barrister 'must not continue to act if the client insists on giving evidence denying guilt or requires the making of a statement asserting the client's innocence', 'must not falsely suggest that some other person committed the offence charged', 'must not set up an affirmative case inconsistent with the confession' and 'must ensure that the prosecution is put to proof
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  • 18
    Text - gaybear63 6d An attorney has an ethical duty to represent their client zealously. That is true whether we know a client is guilty or not. Whether in court or during pre-trial proceedings we will challenge and evaluate the state's evidence. True whether trying to get a client off all charges, looking to plea, or just figure out a defense strategy. Innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt is a heavy burden. It is a higher standard than guilty by clear and convincing evidence a
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  • 19
    Text - Nothin2Say 6d Although I am not an attorney I have been represented by one for a speeding ticket that I was 100% guilty of. He wrote a "trial by written declaration" which is available to people in California, and in the document he basically wrote asking if the street was tested for a speed test to make sure the speed limit was posted accurately and he mentioned stuff regarding wanting records for the radar gun used. And poof, 3 weeks later got a letter in the mail saying dismissed! I wa
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  • 20
    Text - feefiveforfun I am a defense lawyer as well. TLDR; the criminal justice system is so oppressive I don't care so if a guilty client or two gets off scot free. On the whole it benefits society. There are two kinds of defense lawyers; the ones that live for getting an innocent client off, and those that live for getting a guilty client off. I am probably the latter kind. At the end of the day most defense attorneys- especially those in more rural areas believe the sentencing and fines for mo
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  • 21
    Text - jweinkauf 6d My criminal law professor said that he preferred guilty clients because he could do his best to ensure a fair procedure but if he lost he didn't sweat it. He took it a lot harder when he would lose a trial for a client that he thought was innocent.
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