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A Zealous Defense

We often hear of the need for a zealous defense.  (Zealous prosecutions are less in vogue  --  I guess prosecutors should go out and have a cup of coffee).  

I have no problem with a zealous defense that puts the truth before the jury.  Indeed, that kind of defense is rightly called heroic, a word that, unfortunately, seems to be applied to defense lawyering whether or not it's the truth that gets put on display. Examples of heroic defense lawyering include the efforts put forth in behalf of the falsely accused Duke lacrosse players and, more recently, in behalf of the very politically incorrect but self-defending George Zimmerman.

What both those cases have in common is (a) the defendants actually were not guilty of the crimes alleged, and (b) their exonerations were massively unpopular in academia, which ordinarily unabashedly roots for the worst kind of guilty defendants, including, for example, Philadelphia cop killer Mumia Abu-Jamal.   

But I digress.  Although this is seldom acknowledged loudly in that self-same academia, a zealous defense should have limits.  In the great majority of cases, it does  --  or at least its shake-and-jive qualities are accepted by current professional "standards."  But sometimes  --  more than is commonly believed  --  the defense, even by loose standards, is a bit too zealous.



Bill, do you any thoughts on how this problem might be remedied professionally or otherwise?

When I was in law school one of the attorneys who represented David Westerfield (think that's his name) spoke to us in a class and I was disturbed about how that defense was conducted I.e they knew he did because of the body...

I thought that Mumia guy was old news, I remember protesting his execution in college back in the mid 90s. I guess he is still around

I never liked the term "zealous" in this context because it can have different meanings. If a person uses "zealous defense" to mean simply that the defense lawyers are spirited and dedicated to their client's interest, that's fine. However, if it is used to mean that defense lawyers should be zealots with fanatical single-mindedness overriding all other considerations, that's not fine.

In California, we had a person working for a capital defense agency who forged jurors names to affidavits in order to make jury misconduct claims. She was completely unrepentant at her own sentencing, believing she had done her duty as a member of the zealous defense team.

Yet, Ken Star went and filed those so obviously forged affidavits with the court. What happened to him? Nothing.

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