My name is Michael Thomas and I am a second year law student at Roger Williams University School of Law. My goal in coming to law school is to become a Public Defender.
This past weekend Americans across the nation celebrated Constitution Day to mark the 228th anniversary of the signing of the United States Constitution. The United States Constitution has been amended 27 times. One of my favorite Amendments is the Sixth. The Sixth Amendment guarantees, among other things, defendants in criminal trials the right to an attorney regardless of whether the defendant can pay for one. The intent is to put poor people on an equal playing field when accused of a crime.
There are several questions that generally come up when I tell someone that I want to be a Public Defender. Questions regarding how it would feel to represent guilty people and whether I would only represent people I thought were innocent.
The law promises that defendants in a criminal trial will be presumed innocent until the prosecution proves beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty. (Whether this presumption works in practice is a story for another blog post.) While I fully understand that I will represent people who did what they are accused of doing, it is not my job to determine this. The fact that a person did in fact do what they have been accused of does not change the fact that s/he has a constitutional right to an attorney.
Bill Belichick has a saying that I try to live my life by. “DO YOUR JOB.” Each person in the courtroom has a specific job to do. Defense attorneys argue on behalf of the defendant, Prosecutors argue on behalf of either the State of the United States of America, Judges make sure that the correct law is being applied, and Juries determine the facts. It would be a miscarriage of justice if I, as a Defense Attorney, made the decision to do the work of the Prosecutor. The Sixth Amendment gives the Defendant a right to an attorney who will represent him or her. It does not give the Defendant the right to an attorney as long as the Defendant is probably innocent. It gives them a right to an attorney.
We are all a part of a system. That system works best when there are quality people in each of those positions who are doing their job and nothing more. We need quality Prosecutors, Judges, Defense Attorneys, and Juries. As long as there are quality people in each of these positions justice will be carried out the way it is supposed to be.
In short, my career goal is to protect the Sixth Amendment right to counsel. There are many other rights I will protect during my career but, to me, this is the most important.