April 17, 2007

FORMER PROSECUTOR RANDY BARNETT ON WHY DEFENSE LAWYERS MATTER:

For better or worse, we have an adversary legal system that relies for its proper operation on having competent lawyers on both sides. In every case I knew about where an innocent person had been convicted, there had been an incompetent defense lawyer at the pretrial and trial stages. . . .

The crucial importance of defense lawyers was illustrated in reverse by the Duke rape prosecution, mercifully ended last week by North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper’s highly unusual affirmation of the defendants’ complete innocence. Others are rightly focusing on the “perfect storm,” generated by a local prosecutor up for election peddling to his constituents a racially-charged narrative that so neatly fit the ideological template of those who dominate academia and the media. But perhaps we should stop for a moment to consider what saved these young men: defense attorneys, blogs and competing governments.

Particularly after the O.J. trial, a lot of people seem to think that defense lawyers mostly use clever tricks to get guilty people off. In fact, that doesn’t happen nearly as often as popularly believed. Instead, as Randy notes, they play an important role in keeping the innocent from being convicted. “Our criminal justice system does not rely solely on the fairness of the police and prosecutors to get things right. In every criminal case, there is a professional whose only obligation is to scrutinize what the police and prosecutor have done. This ‘professional’ is a lawyer.”

Just another reason why Randy Barnett is my pick for the next Attorney General of the United States . . . . though I’m pretty sure he won’t be George Bush’s.

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