When people find out that I do criminal defense work, I occasionally get the classic "how can you defend those people" question. That one's easy. Sometimes I get an interesting variation — "Is there anyone you wouldn't defend?" The honest answer is yes.
Both questions contain a misunderstanding of defense attorney attitudes towards their clients. I don't defend people because I support, or approve of, or like their conduct — or when I do, it's purely coincidental. Often I despise what they have been accused of — which is quite often something within shouting distance of what they actually did. But that has nothing to do with why I defend them. I do it because I believe firmly that the system works best (not perfectly, but optimally) when everyone accused by the state gets someone in their corner fighting for them — not because they are likable, not because in any objective sense that they deserve support, but because our society believes that the irreducible quality of being a human being is that when the government tries to stick you in a cage, we will give you one person who is on your side and doing their best to keep you out if the rule of law allows it. It's quasi-religious for me, or at least there is a religious parallel. I believe that I am loved, and forgiven, entirely by grace, not because I deserve it in any remotely convincing way. I could accuse me of such things, and so on. I think we come closest to grace when we provide an advocate to people without reference to whether they deserve it. Yes, I just impliedly compared myself to God. It's an occupational hazard.
So I don't have any list, even a mental one, of crimes I would defend and crimes I would not. But there are people I wouldn't defend. It's purely idiosyncratic — it's like how I can enjoy art produced by some awful human beings (Wagner, for example) but not other awful human beings (Ezra Pound, for example). Some people — not crimes, but people and courses of conduct — fill me with such visceral revulsion that I could never be an effective advocate for them, and I'd rather not be an advocate at all than be one for them. This is a human failing in my commitment to universal advocacy for the accused. I can live with it.
Case in point — and the person who brought this to mind — the verminous Joe Francis, founder of "Girls Gone Wild." This brilliant L.A. Times piece from three years ago limns him well, and gives a glimpse of the sociopathic tendencies that revolt me. This week he's in the news because of published details of his defense in a federal tax case, scathingly reviewed by Kevin Underhill, who also detailed Francis' recent antics in a civil case. Oh, and he might have assaulted a woman in a nightclub last night, which may (I hope) get his bond yanked.
Look, I've got nothing against the people defending Francis. I know and like several of his prior lawyers. But I'd rather not be a lawyer than defend him. The world would be a better place if he got shanked.
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