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Brainstorm: The Next Generation | Defending the guilty

“Why do lawyers defend the guilty?” This is a question that every lawyer, at some point in his career, will be asked.

This is particularly true in relation to sensationalized cases where there is a public perception that the accused in a criminal case is guilty and the people believing this cannot understand why there are still lawyers defending the accused.

Expectedly, this leads to the derisive conclusion that lawyers are just mercenaries who are ready to do anything for the sake of making money.

This is a sad reality that lawyers have to deal with and this is why I thought it proper to put some perspective on this issue.

“Who says the accused is guilty?” This is the main question that should be asked. Much of the problem lies in the fact that public opinion is shaped and molded by media and, whether consciously or unconsciously, there is always the tendency for journalists, opinion writers and other media personalities to incorporate their own views, biases and perceptions in their publications.

The situation is much worse in social media because people making posts seldom care about the accuracy of the assertions, so called “evidence” or statements that they are citing to vilify an accused in posts, blogs, or tweets.

On the other hand, the judicial system is governed by clear rules of evidence, particularly the rules on admissibility and weight, in appreciating whether or not the evidence presented is sufficient to justify the conviction of an accused in a criminal case.

This is why trial by publicity runs counter to the judicial system and also why the SUB JUDICE RULE, which prohibits lawyers and litigants from discussing the merits of a pending case in public fora, exists and should be strictly enforced. Simply put, judges should be shielded from being swayed by public opinion which is based on conjectures, speculations or outright assumptions rather than on hard evidence.

“How can you defend an accused who already signed a confession?” In response to questions like this, I normally ask “Who were there when the confession was signed?” “Was the accused tortured?” “Did he understand what he was signing?” and other similar queries.

Just as an example, I once took over a case where the accused, charged with murder, had already pleaded guilty to homicide at the time I was engaged. He did so because he was advised by the lawyer appointed by the court that he could benefit from a plea bargain and also because he admitted that he really did stab the victim causing his death. However, luckily before his sentence was promulgated, I was able to interview him and I learned that he was actually defending himself when he stabbed the victim with a kitchen knife (He was preparing “kinilaw” at the time) because the victim was about to hack him with a bolo for supposedly having relations with the victim’s wife. The accused was eventually acquitted of the charges after his improvident plea of guilty was withdrawn and we were able to properly present his side of the story.

“But the accused was arrested after drugs were found in his house?” Again, the situation is still the same, since there are important questions to ask. “Was there a validly issued search warrant?” “Was the search properly conducted?” “Was there a possibility, or even a probability, that the drugs were planted?”

Similar to my example above, I once had a case where the policemen allegedly arrested my client DURING an alleged “shabu” session but my client tested NEGATIVE for drugs. Simply put, how could he have been participating in a “shabu” session and yet have no traces of drugs in his system?

The fact is that it is easy for a reader of news items, opinion columns or facebook posts to already conclude that a person accused of a crime is guilty and to unjustly believe that the lawyer defending him must be receiving a lot of money for representing a guilty man. Lawyers and judges, however, must rely on the admissible evidence and appreciate the weight of such evidence before making any conclusions.

People seem to forget that this is why the person charged is called an ACCUSED because all that has happened is that he has been accused of a criminal offense. He has not yet been found guilty. The Constitution, the law, and the rules of our judicial system still require that the process of the presentation and evaluation of the evidence must be followed before the accused will either be acquitted or convicted of the offense.

It is just sad that in the COURT OF PUBLIC OPINION, a person accused of an offense, is usually CONVICTED BEFORE BEING TRIED and his lawyer vilified along with him.

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