Friday, October 21, 2005

Defending defense lawyers defending the Fourth Amendment

If you spend much time in public talking to folks about the topics covered on this blog, before long someone will ask, "Why would a criminal defense attorney want to make their living defending criminals?"

From the Brownwood Bulletin's crime beat reporter Steve Nash comes this interesting column about local defense attorney Rudy Taylor, whose family and friends criticized him after he successfully got the results of an unlawful search thrown out in a drug case where his client would otherwise
have been found guilty. Wrote Nash:
Taylor said the questioning from his family made it a “soul-searching kind of issue” for him, but then he rephrased it as forcing him to validate the philosophy he developed in law school.

“My response is, that this is bigger than any one case,” he said. “It’s about protecting all of our rights in the long run. We’re the checks and balances to law enforcement.”

If defendants’ constitutional protections are violated, he said, “what would be the consequences to my law-abiding family?”

“If you don’t find your voice, your philosophical voice, where your heart really is ... how do you explain yourself?” Taylor asked. “How do you feel good about your job?”
That's necessary for every defense attorney, I'd imagine. But in a day and age when judges are mostly politicians and too often favor draconian, counterproductive tuff-on-crime policies over the Bill of Rights, I think it also behooves defense attorneys, once they find that voice, to use it more often in the public square, so I'm glad to see Mr. Taylor talking to the press on these subjects. As he explained to Nash:
“My job as a criminal defense attorney is to make sure that the checks and balances set forth in the U.S. Constitution and the Texas Constitution are applied to every case. Without that, we would revert back to the days of Nazi Germany and storm troopers who could go and kick in doors of innocent people.

“Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Without checks and balances, police could decide they don’t like you or me and manufacture evidence.”

Perhaps a month has elapsed since Taylor’s court victory in the suppression of evidence hearing. He said he has no regrets.

“I’m really not soft on crime. Generally speaking, we have fair laws in this country. I am a strict law advocate. On the other hand, I am a strict constitutional rights advocate. They counterbalance each other.”
The demonization of criminals in a society that's managed to label nearly 2,000 separate acts "felonies" (in TX, anyway) and countless more misdemeanors has proven to be a nearly endless pastime for many in the public. But the reason to protect criminals' rights is that, some day, your own rights might need protecting.
I think Ken Lammers put the idea as well as anyone in this memorable post from last year:

If I choose to defend only the Righteous,
When the Rigtheous are accused,
What tools shall I have to defend them?


jdallen said...

Grits, I couldn't agree more. But (You knew there had to be a "but", right?) Our government already DOES kick down peoples' doors and act like storm troopers. It's not in all instances, or even in most instances, but it does happen.

And the ACLU seems to be more concerned with more "important" things? That's where the organization loses me and many others.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

ACLU can't be everywhere, but take a look at the Texas ACLU website, at ACLU led the charge on the statewide drug task force issue, and those guys really are wrongfully breaking down doors. Whatever goes on in DC and New York, this is the type of stuff ACLU mostly works on in Texas, and has since the current ED took over five years ago.

Anonymous said...

I long ago lost the source, and this is from memory, paraphrasing no doubt, but here goes: "My job to keep the government honest. It is hard work, and, frankly, I'm not doing so good."

jdallen said...

I think that quote Anon. had was John Dillinger, or Clyde Barrow. Somebody like that.

OP said...

I've been grilled by defense attorneys on more than a few occasions. Competent, honest peace officers need not fear them. Our criminal justice system, as flawed as it is at times, remains one of the finest in the world. It wouldn't be were it not for criminal defense lawyers.