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  • Doug Tjapkes

Watch your mouth. You may need a criminal lawyer someday!

The Constitution of the United States of America gets treated much like the Holy Bible. We pick and choose which parts we really like. Today, I’m picking a less popular amendment, as I come to the defense of criminal lawyers. Eric Nelson has been taking a lot of heat these days. He was the lead defense attorney for recently convicted Minneapolis cop Derek Chauvin. In coffee shop or tavern discussions, you’ll invariably hear negative comments about any lawyer who would defend a guy like that. I remember long ago when a young criminal attorney married into a prominent family. You’d have thought their daughter had married someone of a different faith or, gasp, of another color. A member of his new family rudely wondered how the man could sleep at night. I think the world of defense attorneys. When invited to speak at their state convention, I concluded my address with the statement that I considered these lawyers “the backbone of our justice system.” I received a standing O. Here’s what we must remember. The Sixth Amendment guarantees the rights of criminal defendants, including the right to a public trial without unnecessary delay, the right to a lawyer, the right to an impartial jury, and the right to know who your accusers are and the nature of the charges and evidence against you. Even with that guarantee, the criminal defense attorney faces an uphill battle. There’s a shameful discrepancy between the resources available to the prosecutor and those for the defense attorney. If it’s a public defender, the hill is even steeper. The prosecutor probably has a better-funded office, but for certain has services like police investigators and lab technicians at his/her fingertips. A couple of observations. First, when you hear of a jury acquitting someone of a criminal charge, don’t immediately blame a sleazy defense attorney. Blame the state for not making its case. And second, if and when an unlikely situation develops and you need a lawyer, you’re going to thank God that some people have chosen to become warriors for the accused! That’s what Eric Nelson is. He did his best to make sure the state did its job properly when accusing a police officer of murder. An HFP salute today to criminal attorneys, especially public defenders, who perform a most important role. They have a duty to their clients to ensure that those persons accused of a crime receive due process of law and enjoy every possible benefit from their talent. I repeat: They're the backbone of our judicial system!

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