As a criminal defense lawyer, I have been told more lawyer jokes than I could possibly remember. I hear the snickers and feel the disapproving stares. If I have been asked once I have been asked a thousand times “how can you sleep at night knowing the people you represent are guilty?”
We, as criminal defense lawyers, represent the U.S. and State Constitutions. It’s not a matter of guilt or innocence. The Constitution specifically guarantees that everyone gets a fair trial; that everyone is innocent until they are proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Our judicial system was created by the Constitution to ensure that the government does not go unchecked in providing all the safeguards built in to our Bill of Rights. As a criminal defense lawyer, I do not get to decide if a client is guilt or not guilty and to do so is unethical and an assault on our Constitution
My job is to ensure the state proves its case against my client without a reasonable doubt. In other words, my job is to make sure the system works in the spirit on which it was founded. I am here to keep the system honest. The system doesn’t work if I don’t represent the “potentially guilty” and the “potentially not guilty” because the reality is that every defendant could fall into either of these categories. We only know to which group they belong when all of the facts have been presented and the judge or jury makes that determination. My job is to make sure the system works.
In the case against Julius G. Wilson, I have once again been called upon to ensure the system works and the Constitution is upheld. In 2014, Wilson was pulled over because of a faulty brake light. After running Wilson’s Georgia driver’s license, Slager and Officer Brad Woods approached the vehicle and informed Wilson he was under arrest for having a suspended South Carolina license. Then the officers proceeded to forcibly remove Wilson from the vehicle. Once on the ground and subdued, Officer Slager proceeded to tase Wilson. This is when the system begins to breakdown. The question that begs to be answered is was Officer Slager justified in Tasing Mr. Wilson in the back after he was on the ground, on his stomach with his palms face down and cooperating with the other two officers or did Slager use excessive force?
The system that I have dedicated my life to defending does not allow for the use of excessive force by police officers. The system dictates that law enforcement officers should only the amount of force necessary to mitigate an incident, make an arrest, or protect themselves or others from harm. The goal is to regain control of the situation as soon as possible while protecting the community and the use of force should be the last option. Force should only be used as a necessary course of action to restore safety in a community when other practices are ineffective. Julius G. Wilson was on the ground, handcuffed and subdued. Safety had been restored. Force, excessive or otherwise was no longer necessary. Officer Slager has shown a pattern of excessive force. He has broken the system and it must be restored. It is my job, my duty and my obligation to the system to ensure this happens. So when asked, how do I sleep at night, I sleep just fine.