The role of a defense attorney

What exactly do we know about the role of a defense attorney? Aside from the clichés perpetrated by television shows, we must admit that our vision of the profession suffers from an evident lack of knowledge. The proof? The popular belief that prompts our knee-jerk reaction of disapproval at the idea of an attorney defending someone accused of a misdeed punishable by law.

But let’s not forget that everyone is presumed innocent until proven guilty. Unlike in a dictatorial regime where the presumption of innocence is virtually non-existent, this legal principle is at the very heart of our democracy, highlighting the importance of ensuring that everyone’s rights are enforced.

And who is in the best position to safeguard this fundamental tenet of our society? A defense attorney.

How does a defense attorney work?

The role of a defense attorney? To represent and defend anyone who is facing prosecution after being accused of a crime. The goal? To get an acquittal or the least severe sentence possible by utilizing all of the means available under the law to defend the client. Thus an attorney must demonstrate to the court that the client is innocent, that there are mitigating factors or that there have been flaws in the procedure. In the performance of this duty, the defense attorney works in opposition to the prosecutor representing the Crown.

The attorney is the client’s ally. He or she strives to enforce the client’s fundamental rights, which include the presumption of innocence and the right to a full and fair defense. According to the Supreme Court of Canada, these principles constitute the pillars of the criminal justice system.

A defense attorney must identify any failings in the evidence brought forward by the prosecution. For example, if the evidence was gathered in violation of the client’s rights, the defender has legal grounds to object to it. As part of the defense strategy, the attorney must question each argument raised by the opposing party and evaluate if it is sufficient to establish the client’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Therefore, a defense attorney is expected to have finely honed legal expertise, optimal organization and exceptional communication skills. However, we also expect him or her to have strong interpersonal skills. These include listening attentively and compassionately, demonstrating respect at all times and providing unfailing support. It’s only under these conditions that the accused can confide in the attorney with total confidence and, as a result, benefit from the best possible defense.

Why I chose to be a criminal lawyer

As a criminal lawyer, I defend the rule of law. I can’t imagine the kind of chaos the system would be subjected to if we failed to respect the legal standards that are currently in effect. When I began my practice, I had the conviction that we could all expect equality under the law.

Yet every day, current events remind me that innocent people can be convicted. Not all of those accused of crimes are villains. To err is human, and all of us—you, me, our parents, our children and our friends—can lose our way or make a mistake from time to time. However, there are such things as innocence and mitigating factors. If a crime has been perpetrated, it must be judged without sacrificing respect for the rights of the individual. No one is completely good or completely bad, and my mission is to reconstruct the truth.

Any human being who commits a misdeed deserves some understanding of the circumstances surrounding it, in order for the act to be represented in its full context. One might think that my intention is to justify a crime, but in reality, I want to explain it, not condone it.

My goal isn’t to prove guilty people innocent, but rather to ensure that they’re treated the same way any human being deserves to be treated. Even if it is sometimes difficult to accept, this consideration allows us to safeguard our individual rights—rights that we, unlike people in some other countries, are fortunate enough to have.

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