Mixing Morality with Murder: The Problems Criminal Lawyers Face When Defending the Guilty
by Lilith Franco on June 9, 2015 - 2:59pm
In every field of work, professionals are faced with moral dilemmas on a daily basis. Doctors must make fast decisions that can alter a person’s life forever, teachers must decide how to deal with students who have cheated on an evaluation whose result may or may not end the student’s academic career and finally, criminal lawyers are faced with the moral dilemma of defending a client who may or may not be guilty.
Criminal lawyers are responsible for defending their clients in court throughout the trial by providing enough proof of the person’s innocence. More often than not, it will be challenging to disprove the guiltiness of the client if said client is guilty, as the experienced lawyer will be able to tell and the opposition’s evidence will accumulate. They have the obligation to help their client be liberated with a lesser sentence, but the feeling of guilt for doing so would cause a moral dilemma. The lawyer has the responsibility to get them off with a lesser sentence, as that is what they are being paid for, however the feeling guilt upon doing this may cause a moral predicament.
The moral dilemma arises when a lawyer must decide what is more valuable to them, representing the client and getting paid or choosing a different case. However, if the lawyer chooses the case, it is their responsibility, as a certified and functioning counterpart in the system of justice, as well as their source of income, to construct the most appealing case. On the other hand, the lawyer’s conscience and moral compass will be affected negatively, by letting a client get away with atrocious crimes. For example, if the lawyer is defending a murderer, by winning their case, it can have negative consequences on the well-being of the lawyer, their reputation and the safety and well-being of the community as well as the family of the murderer’s victim.
By using the ethical approach of teleology, which defines morality by the end goal or purpose that motivates the action (Merill 25), the lawyer would be considered immoral if the end result of their efforts in trial is to let a guilty person be liberated. By assisting their client to be proven innocent, it could have disastrous consequences. Who is to say that this person won’t commit murder again? As mentioned above, a single act can cause a chain reaction affecting hundreds of people and their communities and causing people to live in constant fear of becoming the next victim of a heinous crime.
Finally, a possible solution to this moral dilemma is having the lawyer reason with their client and hopefully allowing them to realize the error of their ways. By then helping them win their case and have them do community service to make up for their crimes, given that they are mentally stable and willing. Preferably, this community service would be to counsel troubled youth in their communities rather than go to prison. Unfortunately, prisons have been proven to be overfilled, inflict bad habits as well as treatment on the criminals and consume precious taxpayer money with each new inmate.
Merill John C. “Overview: Theoretical Foundations for Media Ethics,” 25 in A. David Gordon, John M Kittross, John C Merill, William Babcock, and Michael Dorsher (eds.), Controversies in Media Ethics, 3rd Edition (New York: Routledge, 2011)