Usually, I know when it is coming. Usually, I have a stock answer. Usually, it is not malicious. Usually, it takes a little conversation before people ask.
The question usually comes from a place of misinformation. A basic lack of understanding of the Constitution of the United States.
This one, however, was abrupt. Condescending. Judgmental.
“How do you defend someone you know is guilty?”
No preface, no earlier discussion.
Just the question.
I could feel my defensive layers rising. I hoped the tone and the abrupt start were unintentional. Sometimes it is the questioners fear of being wrong. Sometimes it is a visceral reaction to a trigger of some past occurrence.
If it was intentional then deflection is a good course of action. A short explanation that might mollify the fear and angst that prompted the question. Even a temporary acceptance of the underlying assumption of the question.
One must pick their battles.
But this time I did none of that.
This time I was done.
This person, a stranger to me, had entered my space and challenged my character.
He: “How do you defend someone you know is guilty?”
ME: “I don’t know that. I am not God and I wasn’t there. No one that will judge the truth of the events that put that person’s life in my hands was there.”
I was, and in my heart, still am a criminal defense attorney. So the above answer was delivered in the intimidating, clipped, lowered voice reserved for the courtroom. I was angry.
I hold dear the Rights guaranteed to an accused.
I hold sacred the right of an individual to be represented by counsel when the GOVERNMENT charges them with a crime that could take away their physical freedom, destroy their family, remove their livelihood and/or take their life.
I will not ignore the subtext in the question. I, and my brothers and sisters before and after me, are the last bastion of defense against the power of the State. I will not allow, in my presence, someone to disparage the 30 years I put into making our Constitution work. I will not allow, in my presence, someone to malign the work and efforts of so many others who strive to make the word Justice mean something other than “Just Us”.
In that endeavor, I will persist.