Representing Unpopular Defendants

My career as a defense attorney specializing in sex crimes started in 2004, during my first “night” arraignment shift at the old Criminal Court building on Schermerhorn Street in downtown Brooklyn. Two details of that night are fixed in my memory. First, the rats. Second, the pile of sex offense cases, each marked with a neon orange warning sticker. He had set them aside, the clerk explained, because none of the previous crew of public defenders had wanted to arraign them, so they just left them there for the next shift to handle. I grabbed that pile and clutched it to my chest.

A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Our constitutional rights are only as strong as the ones we are willing to extend to the least popular defendants.

“To the degree we deny unpopular defendants basic due process rights we cease to be the country we imagine ourselves to be, ” writes Harvard law professor Ronald S. Sullivan Jr., who just lost his position as Dean of Winthrop House for defending an unpopular client. “In fact, most of the due process rights we hold dearest derive from lawyers who represented unpopular defendants.” Read more here.

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