A young, male public defender got hold of me the other day to ask if he was crazy. It wasn’t a personal question, but raised the views of his colleagues who both fancied themselves fierce defenders of the accused while simultaneously being absolute in their support of #BelieveTheWoman.
I began by pointing out the obvious, that it would seem impossible for someone dedicated to social justice ideology to do the nasty work of defending people accused of terrible crimes, whether a man accused of raping a woman, or beating his spouse, or a white man accused of a “hate crime” against a black man, or worse still, woman.
Can they cross the accuser hard enough to make them cry, to destroy their credibility, to traumatize them if it serves their client’s interest? If they can’t, or won’t, then they aren’t the defender they claim to be.
But he responded that he got all that (which is why he raised the question in the first place), but couldn’t seem to get the idea across. They didn’t reply with the usual childish excuses, desperately differentiating their clients, where they claimed to be tough lawyers, from the exact same scenario where they were empathetic human beings absolutely committed to seeing the guy who looked exactly like their client burn in hell.
The trick was that they were goading him to come out and say the obvious, to call them liars, frauds, hypocrites. If they say they can do both, even if it makes no sense whatsoever and flies in the face of reality, they do both. Want to fight them, white boy?
For the most part, arguments like this don’t really mean anything. It’s just random people on social media, who neither shoulder the responsibility for other people’s lives nor wield any power beyond signing a change.org petition and calling Darth Cheeto mean names. They get to enjoy their catharsis, signal their virtue and then go to work dishing out ice cream cones with sprinkles.
But lawyers? Public defenders? They hold real people’s lives in their hands. And some of those real people are bad dudes. Some are guilty. Some aren’t the sort you would invite home for dinner. And we defend them too. Or we’re supposed to.
Can someone whose belief system is internally conflicted be trusted to provide a zealous defense for a really awful defendant when it requires them to rip a rape victim to shreds on the stand, or denigrate a black person who was beaten for no better reason than their skin color? Can they compartmentalize their job, the defense of the bad dudes, from their ideology, believing the victim or serving the marginalized?
If someone is going to be destroyed in the course of a criminal prosecution, will they have the will to make sure it’s not their defendant, no matter how awful he may be? Or is that no longer the job of a criminal defense lawyer, a public defender, as far as the woke are concerned?
*Tuesday Talk rules apply.