Attorney Adrian M. Madrone has teamed up with Law Professor Julie A. Helling’s acclaimed Internet Podcast Series Justice On Trial. In this episode, Adrian discusses the role criminal defense attorneys play in the courtroom and their importance to society.
Intro and outro music provided by Jason Shaw. To listen to this complete podcast, where Julie also speaks with another attorney concerning national security during 9/11, visit the Justice On Trial website.
What is the Role of Criminal Defense Attorneys?
How can you defend those people? As a criminal defense attorney, this is a question I hear a lot. In my career I have defended people in cases ranging from low-level traffic offenses, to the most serious violent felonies—including rape, robbery, child abuse, domestic violence, and homicide.
While the job of a criminal defense attorney can be stressful at times, I personally have no qualms at all about vigorously defending my clients. Criminal defense attorneys play a vital role in ensuring that the criminal justice system operates as it is supposed to, and does so in a way that is fair and just.
The Constitutional Right to an Attorney
The job of the criminal defense attorney is one of the few jobs written into the United States Constitution. (This is in the Sixth Amendment, which says, “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to…the assistance of counsel for his defense.”) The fact that this role is listed as a fundamental constitutional right conveys just how important this work is.
Why Criminal Defense is Important
The reason that the role of a criminal defense attorney is so important is that every person accused of a crime faces a massive system laid out against them. And every criminal charge carries the possibility that the person accused is actually innocent.
Keeping Innocent People Out of Jail
We hear frequently about people who have been imprisoned for years who are later proven to be completely innocent. The risk of sending an innocent person to jail or prison should be one of our paramount concerns as a society. And it is the role of the criminal defense attorney to fight every case as if their client is completely innocent, and to demand that government produce the evidence that it claims proves otherwise. Without attorneys filling that role and fighting that fight, more and more innocent people could be wrongfully convicted for things they did not do.
Making Sure the Punishment Fits the Crime
Beyond just defending innocent people (which happens occasionally but is certainly not always the case), I want to make sure that if the person has done something wrong and is convicted of a crime, that the punishment is appropriate to the defendant and the crime. It is the defense attorney who pushes back against punishment that is unfair or excessive. For example, an attorney defending someone charged with murder could very well agree that their client’s actions resulted in another person’s death. But the attorney could fight to show that the death was accidental or unintentional, and therefore should be treated as manslaughter rather than murder. Without someone pushing and fighting for an alternative perspective on a case, the system would be stacked unfairly against the defendant.
The Personal Side of Criminal Defense
Beyond the big-picture importance of the role of the criminal defense attorney, the work also takes place on a close personal level. Criminal defense attorneys work closely with people whose lives are in great turmoil. When I meet with a client for the first time, I am typically meeting with someone who is scared, confused, and uncertain about their future. They may not know what they are charged with or why. They likely have no idea what options are available to them, or which option would be best to pursue. Criminal defense attorneys also regularly work with people who have significant issues with mental health and stability. Drug addiction, alcoholism, and anger issues are often regularly present with criminal defendants as well. The criminal defense attorney is the one who sits down with those clients and works with them to try to address the things that have brought them to this point in their lives. Outside of the criminal defense attorney, there is simply no one else in the system that fills that role.
What is it Like to be a Criminal Defense Attorney?
Criminal defense attorneys really have to wear a number of hats in doing their job. Teaching, counseling, advocating, negotiating, mediating. These are all skills involved in being a criminal defense attorney. Sometimes the work can be tiring and challenging. It can require great patience and creativity. But without people doing this work the system would simply fail. So when people ask me how I can do this job, these are some of the things I tell them.