Can My Lawyer Help Me Get Away With It? Two Common Misconceptions About Criminal Defense Lawyers
We have all seen the movies and television shows that feature brilliant legal minds defending the most ruthless criminals, often while knowing their clients are guilty. Over many years, the public has developed a certain distrust of lawyers and many feel their attorneys are there to make sure they “get away” with their crimes. This, however, misses the point entirely. While a skilled legal team can often be the difference between spending years in prison and walking free, there simply are no guarantees in the criminal justice system. Likewise, it is important to understand your attorney’s role and what he or she can and cannot do for you. Below are two of the most common misconceptions people have about criminal defense lawyers.
Misconception #1 – You will do the lying for me
Wrong. Every state bar association provides a set of fundamental rules by which all lawyers must abide in order to keep their right to practice law. The national standards that many states follow are called the Model Rules of Professional Conduct. Under Rule 3.3, a lawyer may not “knowingly make a false statement of fact or law to a tribunal or fail to correct a false statement of material fact or law previously made to the tribunal by the lawyer.” Likewise, the lawyer cannot fail to disclose legal authority and precedent that controls the outcome of the case, nor can the lawyer offer false evidence.
In Virginia, Rule 3.3 is almost identical to the model rule; however, the Virginia rule includes a brief comment that truly sums up a lawyer’s role in representing a client. It says:
“The advocate’s task is to present the client’s case with persuasive force. Performance of that duty while maintaining confidences of the client is qualified by the advocate’s duty of candor to the tribunal. However, an advocate does not vouch for the evidence submitted in a cause; the tribunal is responsible for assessing its probative value.”
In other words, it is not for the lawyer to lie or defraud the court; it is the lawyer’s job to persuade the court and jurors to view the evidence in the light most favorable to the client.
Misconception #2 – Your job is to get me off the hook
This one is a gray area. Yes, a lawyer’s job is to do his or her best to make sure you are protected. In many cases this means ensuring you stay out of jail or avoid penalties. However, this common misconception really oversimplifies the idea of representation. When it comes to criminal defense, the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides certain rights for every criminal defendant. Those rights include the right to legal representation, a speedy trial, a jury of your peers, to know what you are accused of doing, be allowed to confront your accusers, and to present witnesses in your favor. Your lawyer’s job is to protect those rights and see to it you get a fair shake.
So what will my lawyer actually do for me?
It may help to think of your lawyer as the person you hire to make sure the government plays by the rules. Ultimately, it is the prosecutor’s job to prove that you committed a violation of the law. They may try to do this by breaking the rules, such as performing unlawful searches or by unlawfully detaining you without probable cause. Likewise, without someone there to force fair play, a prosecutor could easily use unfair tactics in court, ask witnesses questions that are designed to taint the jury’s opinions or even misrepresent the evidence.
What should I do if charged with a crime?
Perhaps the police have violated your rights by continuing to interrogate you long after you requested an attorney. Maybe you were stopped and searched for no apparent reason. These types of overreaching by the government are to be discouraged. To ensure Americans are not unjustly convicted of crimes, the law gives defense lawyers many ways to help their clients avoid convictions when the police or prosecutors mess up. So it is not really about “getting away” with crime. It is about making sure the government plays by the rules and does not unjustly punish someone. Sometimes this means a full acquittal, and sometimes it simply means gaining leverage to get a much lesser charge and sentence.
If you or someone you know has been arrested in northern Virginia or the Baltimore area, you need diligent and aggressive representation you can trust. Contact the experienced criminal defense team at Simms Showers, LLP for a consultation today.