Considering the Criminal Defendant Client as a Human
WHAT CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEYS SOMETIMES NEGLECT MAY BE COSTLY;
AND THE COST OF OVERLOOKING MITIGATING CIRCUMSTANCES MAY BE “FREEDOM”
When it comes to advocating for justice, I can’t think of many higher callings than the criminal defense attorney. The criminal defense attorney takes on cases that other attorneys may shudder and run simply because the allegations are too horrendous. It takes a powerful sense of pride and belief in the institutions of this country to represent someone in a criminal matter.
Advocacy and belief in a client’s innocence should not be the only factor in preparing their case. The attorney must consider that the outcome of a jury’s verdict may be guilty. Considering mitigating circumstances in the presentation of your client is not only good lawyering, but it’s also essential in the full preparation of your client’s case.
Mitigating circumstances is what makes your client human. It’s their home life, drug addiction, incest, a broken marriage, and education. These factors are critical to consider in your case.
Once jurors see a person presented before them, it’s often harder to punish them severely. However, it is much easier for the prosecutor to paint the client as an animal in order for the jurors to vote in the prosecution’s favor. The job of a criminal defense attorney is to get the jury to see the defendant as a person.
Some states have now adopted the bifurcated trial, where there is a guilt/innocent phase – and then a mitigation phase. This staging of sentencing arose out of capital litigation cases where statutes mandated that the jury consider mitigating circumstances.
In all trials, in these states (whether capital in nature), mitigating circumstances are allowed. The point is to not wait until the jury delivers a verdict of guilty, but rather start presenting your client as a human being from the beginning of “voir dire” (commonly known as jury selection).
The jury must entertain the idea of humanity. This way of thinking is not simply for criminal defense attorneys, but also for the defendant’s loved ones. Letting an attorney become familiar with the past of the accused is not shameful – in fact, it can actually be used to their benefit.