I actually didn’t have an old favorite attorney, but I liked the title. I do think highly of several fictional lawyers, like Atticus Finch, but in real life …
I should start out by saying that I do believe that every defendant is entitled to a good defense. Where I start getting into trouble is wondering if they are all entitled to the best possible defense. Just how hard should an attorney fight for a guilty defendant?
Why anyone would want to be a criminal defense attorney has always baffled me. I’m not talking about high-powered mouthpieces who specialize in getting rich and/or famous murderers set free, hired guns like Johnny Cochran, Robert Shapiro, F. Lee Bailey, Gary Spence, and Robert Kardashian. I mean the ones who take on the cases of unknowns, either in private practice or in the office of the Public Defender. I mean, anyone who sets out on that road who doesn’t understand that at least 90% of their clients are in fact guilty as charged must have a large pair of rose-colored glasses and a Fairy Godmother.
They want to stand up against the power of the State, and I’m with them on that. Make the D.A. and the police do their jobs, challenge them at every turn. Don’t let people refer to things like Miranda and the Fourth Amendment as “loopholes.” And if guilty clients go free, so be it. Blame the prosecutor, not the defendant.
But taking that job means that, almost all the time, you are dealing with some of the scummiest people in the world. I could not handle that. I could not take the position that defense attorneys take when defending twelve-time losers who have just stolen their thirteenth car, which is “Don’t tell me if you did it. I don’t want to know.” It would be even harder standing up for murderers who are so guilty you can almost see the blood on their hands.
Or literally see the blood on their hands, like people caught on video killing someone. How do you raise a reasonable doubt about that?
You don’t. So the fact is that most of a P.D.’s effort is spent working out a plea deal so the scumbag in question can move through the system quickly and not waste everybody’s time with a trial.
But then you get someone like Nikolas Cruz.
What do you do, as a public defender, when something like that lands in your lap? A man who has admitted to murdering seventeen people and badly wounding fourteen others.
At least two lawyers from the Broward County Public Defender’s office are involved in this case. On the day after the shooting they were already building their case for their client. They have had several things to say about Nikolas Cruz. These are some of them:
He has a significant mental illness.
He is deeply troubled and emotionally he has gone through a lot in a short period of time with the loss of his mother.
This young man is deeply disturbed.
He fell between the cracks and we have to try to save him now.
He’s a broken human being. He’s a broken child.
He is aware of what he did. He is very sad. He is deeply remorseful.
Melisa McNeill said that last thing, and she put her arm around him at the arraignment.
I couldn’t have done that. I couldn’t have made any of those statements to the reporters. If I somehow managed to find it in myself to defend this person I would save it all for the courtroom. As it stands, the defense is almost certainly going to try to make a deal to take the death penalty off the table.
Can you imagine any district attorney in Florida, or probably anywhere else, accepting such a plea deal? Can you imagine the uproar? The petitions for removal from office?
No, I’m betting the D.A. is salivating to get this asshole in court and get him sentenced to death. I would.
But here is a video of Gordon Weekes, one of the public defenders:
I really felt for that man. Everything about him just screams something like “This isn’t what I signed up for. I’m an idealist. I wanted to defend those who don’t have the money for a lawyer. The poor, the badly-educated, ignorant of the law and their rights. I wanted to speak up for people who have no voice, the bottom of the social ladder. And every once in a while (because I don’t believe in fairies) I might actually keep an innocent person out of prison!
But I didn’t sign up to defend a motherfucker who just gunned down fourteen children and three teachers. Fuck this!
Of course, now he will probably have to recuse himself. He clearly won’t be able to be an effective attorney for Cruz.
It won’t really matter. The only question here is how much time will Cruz spend on Death Row.
There is one small bit of good news. It looks like Cruz was coming into an inheritance of around $800,000. If that is true, the taxpayers of Florida won’t have to foot the bill for his defense as well as his prosecution. That could run to millions. He will have to pay for his attorneys.
March 1, 2018