Do defense lawyers say or do anything to get their clients off?
Critics of the defense bar charge that when a defendant is guilty, lawyers do everything in their power to prevent the truth from coming out.
The adversary system of justice encourages defense attorneys to distort the truth by making victory, not truth, the ultimate goal in a criminal lawsuit. This fosters a win‐at‐all‐costs mentality on the part of defense attorneys, which, in turn, leads lawyers to pervert the truth.
Defense attorneys engage in unethical practices that twist the truth. They cross‐examine for the purpose of discrediting the reliability or credibility of adverse witnesses who they know are telling the truth, and they put witnesses on the stand knowing the witnesses will commit perjury.
Most defense attorneys do not distort the truth
The main job of lawyers is to defend their clients under the mandate of the Sixth Amendment. This defense ensures that the rights of innocent people are protected and that the government is put to the test of proving legal guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
The adversary system encourages a zealous and independent defense, which is necessary to keep the rest of the criminal justice system honest. A good defense lawyer can expose sloppy police lab work, racist police officers, and prosecutorial misconduct. By monitoring and scrutinizing the procedures used against the accused in a criminal case, the defense attorney makes the system more credible and more deserving of respect.
Most defense attorneys don't lie. The public is protected from such deviant behavior by rules of professional conduct that “prevent counsel from making dilatory motions, adducing inadmissible or perjured evidence, or advancing frivolous or improper arguments. …” Bar associations enforce these rules and discipline violators.
Evaluating the proposition that most defense attorneys distort the truth
While it is true that defense lawyers occasionally distort the truth, it is also true that prosecutors are equally guilty of sometimes misrepresenting the truth to win a case. Most defense and prosecutorial misconduct is an unfortunate byproduct of the adversarial process. This adversarial process is the linchpin of the criminal justice system in the United States. Such a process operates on the assumption that the truth will prevail from the conflict between the prosecution and the defense. With the adversary process, the defendant is entitled to an array of constitutional rights, the most important of which, from an adversarial standpoint, is the right to counsel, because it is through the right to counsel that the defendant is best able to assert other important rights. These other rights include the right to confront the witnesses against him or her, the right to present a defense, the right to compulsory process in order to obtain witnesses and evidence, the right to remain silent, and the general right to fairness in the prosecution of his or her case.