February 18, 2020 Feature

How Could You Defend That Guy?! Representing Unpopular Clients

Thomas F. Liotti and Lucia Maria Ciaravino

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Defense lawyers are
often looked down on by everyone
because of allegations made
against their clients.

Defense lawyers are often looked down on by everyone because of allegations made against their clients.

IMAGE SOURCE/DIGITALVISION VIA GETTY IMAGES

Gerry Spence, the renowned attorney from Jackson Hole, Wyoming, referred to it as “guilt by client,” where defense lawyers are often looked down on by everyone because of allegations made against their clients. Despite the presumption of innocence, many people believe that a person must have done something simply because he or she was charged with a crime, that there must be actual facts establishing guilt simply because a person is charged. Nonetheless, this is not the way it is supposed to work. When controversial French lawyer Jacques Vergès was asked how he could defend clients such as Klaus Barbie, the accused Nazi war criminal known as the Butcher of Lyon, Vergès stated, “[d]efending doesn’t mean excusing. A lawyer doesn’t judge, doesn’t condemn, doesn’t acquit. He tries to understand.” Vergès explained, “I don’t defend the crime but the person who committed the crime”. That is the way it is for defense lawyers who have taken an oath to uphold, protect, and defend the U.S. Constitution and to zealously represent the rights and interests of their clients.

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