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I don't do criminal law anymore but one summer I worked on a team of public defenders representing a woman who had shot her (reportedly very nice) husband for $60k in insurance money. My job was basically just to try to talk her into confessing and taking the plea bargain, because it was OBVIOUS that she'd done it (her fingerprints all over HER gun, her alibi was proven false, etc.) but she insisted on this half-cocked story about how it had to have been a burglar and spent all of her time feeling sorry for herself. The prosecutor had offered her 5 years. She insisted on going to trial and got 55. I think she's still there. I'm not a bit sad about it.
Some days it's really hard. Defending violent people that have harmed others has desensitized me to violence. I can read reports, see pictures and interview victims with little or no emotional reaction. I've found it's a different feeling when assigned cases by the public Defender versus meeting with people accused of crimes and taking a lot of their money to represent them. I don't take clients that have hurt kids anymore. A couple in a row fucked me up and I can't compartmentalize my emotions from really analyzing the case.
I beat a DUI (driving under the influence) case recently and my client hugged me and his breath reeked of alcohol. At 10:00am. He said he had driven to court. I insisted he let me call an Uber.
Loads. I'm not a criminal lawyer but I do a lot of immigration work. Virtually everyone I represent is harmless, and most of them well meaning. Some are not. There are three that stick in my mind:
I dealt with a guy who was exactly one day younger than me. For his 16th birthday, he and some of his friends had found a homeless guy, doused him in petrol, and set him on fire so he burned to death, essentially just because they were bored. That one freaked me out more than the rest put together, because this guy was (to me, at least) charming, polite, respectful and intelligent, far more so than the average. If I hadn't known anything about him, I'd totally have gone for a beer with this guy- which made me very cynical about my ability to judge character.
I've also represented a guy who was fairly senior in the [RUF](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Revolutionary_United_Front
)- basically think ISIS from the 1990s but in West Africa and they weren't committing atrocities in the name of God but pretty much just because they felt like it. To cut a long story short, he'd raped and murdered a group of school kids and had then eaten some of them in a ceremony. He described it in very graphic detail. He was pretty proud of it, as he thought (mercifully wrongly) that he was going to get asylum because he'd be prosecuted by the Sierra Leonean government if he was removed there. That was probably the moment I stopped caring; I've found that since then I can listen to atrocity stories without any emotional attachment.
Then there was the would-be serial killer, who was in psychiatric detention, and if he wasn't kept pretty permanently sedated, would have murdered pretty much murdered anyone he came into physical contact with. Think Hannibal Lecter, but only capable of communicating in angry grunts and with a habit of smearing himself with his own piss, shit, and blood. He's from another country, so the Government's plan was basically to deport this guy so he's no longer a threat- which is totally understandable. What is not understandable was that the plan was to basically dump him at a random airport in Morocco and run away without telling anyone that's what they'd done. Someone had pointed out that this would probably mean he would start a murderous rampage as soon as the drugs wore off. Someone in authority had said something like "yeah, probably, but if he does at least it's not our problem". This made me feel very cynical and realise that basically all social structures are about getting rid of your own problems and no-one in power or otherwise actually gives a fuck.
I've said this before, but I bailed on family court. Did it for like a month. I had to sit there, expressionless, for hours while I listened to some horrid shit involving abuse and justification for it.
I took a downgrade to worker's comp until I found something I could live with.
That said, God bless everyone involved in family court.
Over a week, I installed a network for a defense lawyer as he was setting up a new office and we had some pretty candid conversations about all of the garbage he has represented in the past. Near the end, I asked him this exact question. This was his answer:
"If I've done my job as a defense lawyer, and I've fought for and protected my clients to the absolute best of my ability according to all technical aspects of the law, then when they get that Guilty verdict, I know that I've closed up as many loopholes for appeals, mistrials, and ways for them to go free, and that's how I sleep at night."
I’ll defend anyone and I believe in the universal right to a competent defense. HOWEVER, certain crimes make me sick. I had to recently depose (ask questions under oath) an 11 year old girl who says my client raped her. It was terrible having to ask her sexual type questions. No child should have to discuss that type of stuff.
Edit: changed ‘defend’ to ‘defense.’ I meant defense was but was typing on my stupid phone.
During my internship, I was part of a team that defended some persons accused for the conspiracy and execution of a group of journalists.
It was hard. But the big thing that people forget is that lawyers don't have to believe in the innocence of the accused. You just have to make sure that justice is done. I personally was wracked with guilt and didn't believe it one bit, but somebody has to represent the accused.
I did some work for defendants facing the death penalty. Some would freely admit they did some horrible things, but I'd say 99% of the time they had borderline disabling IQs and host of other mental issues. A huge portion had suffered severe trauma as children.
It doesn't excuse what they did, but it did really cement my opposition to the death penalty. It is not employed in a way that makes any sense and for the >1% of cases where most people would agree the defendant "deserves" it, doesn't even come close to outweighing the majority of cases where the death penalty is sought in shady grounds (using the one IQ test that puts the defendant above the threshold for the death penalty when all others says they are mentally unfit) or to force a plea. Really, whether or not the death penalty is sought comes down to where the crime was committed and what DA gets the case.
I was 1000% uncomfortable with what some of my clients did, but I didn't really have any qualms defending them from this system.
It made me quit law and got me started with programming.
Late to this thread, but I’ve been a public defender for many years. I find that for me, it’s not the crime that I find hard to deal with; it’s the person. So I can have someone charged with something really horrible, and I might still like them as a person. Or I could have someone charged with shoplifting, and I think they are a jerk.
I have only one case in my mind where I intensely disliked the client AND they did really horrible stuff. I worked my ass off (with others) to ensure this person didn’t get the death penalty. But if they got struck by lightning one day, I wouldn’t be sad.
In any case, when you are in lawyer mode, you think like a lawyer, and compartmentalize a bit. There’s also a small sense of pride in being committed enough to the cause to handle even the bad stuff.
But also, most people charged with crimes are just people. Some are awesome, some are jerks. Some people do bad things and feel really terrible about it. Others blame everyone else but themselves. Some people are so trapped in their trauma or addiction or mental illness that it overshadows everything.
Like im doing my job as an American. Doesnt feel great, but knowing i let someone get locked up without due process would feel much worse.
It doesnt mean i dont hate them after theyre convicted of a heinous crime.
In really late to this so i know it will get buried but for OP's benefit here is my piece.
I work in criminal defence mainly as a police station adviser. So when someone gets arrested i go down to the police station and tell them what they can and cant do, advise them on the law and how to approach the interview and then basically ensure that the police follow the system correctly. As others have pointed out that's a huge part of the job. One of my friends from school is a TDC (trainee detective constable) and he's said a big part of their training is about trying to charge as high as possible and letting us and the CPS fight out what the actual case should then be.
In terms of dealing with the people some of them are absolute reprobates and some of them are charming individuals who just seem to know nothing other than a life of crime. Honestly of the serious and repeat offenders about 75% of them seem to have serious mental health or drug issues. I try to just do my part, deal with the person and their situation rather than the offence. I hold a belief that we are all better than our worst moment. So many people, friends, family, police officers, members of the public etc just see the crime; a rapist, a murderer or a thief and not the rest of the individual and any of their circumstances, so we try and treat each person as an individual with complex needs who is better than just being labelled as a sex offender or an abuser. For the most part we just get desensitised to most crimes as we've seen it all.
All of that being said, we've all had clients who have made us uncomfortable. I once had to get in a taxi and collect my colleague from our other office because she had a client who had been found guilty of ABH and Harassment turn up at the office and bang on the window demanding to be let in and he was waiting down the street and walking down every 5-10 minutes so she was petrified of leaving the office on her own in case he was still waiting there.
Obviously some cases are more intense than others, when I was new and training I sat in on somebody who had a voluntary interview. I.E. he wasn't under arrest and he was free to leave the police station. However he didn't know why he was wanted for questioning and the officer hadnt revealed to us beforehand. He was a friendly, professional guy who worked for a large corporation and had emigrated from North America. Well he was being interviewed for possessing indecent images of children. It's really tough in any situation watching somebody realise their life is crashing down on them and crying the whole way through a police interview. The guy spent the whole time trying to justify to us that he was just curious and trying to get to know why people do these things as he was abused as a kid.
Honestly dealing with some stuff is easy and others it is really exhausting and tough
The job is to hold the State to its burden of proof, and to challenge any Constitutional violations on behalf of the client. It seems to be difficult for some people, but if you just withhold your own judgment and let the process work, there's no feeling of guilt in it. That said, it can be gross to sit next to some folks.
But it's never gross to challenge the State's case and make the argument that there's not enough evidence to convict.