Why Do Criminal Defense Lawyers Represent ‘Monsters’?

Abbe Smith, a law professor at Georgetown University, asks us a timeless question. Why would some private criminal defense lawyers want to represent infamous doers of crime, like Ariel Castro, who was accused (and recently sentenced to life plus 1,000 years) of kidnapping three women, raping them, and keeping them prisoners in his home for ten years? What is the motivating factor?

It’s not easy to explain, but Smith provides a decent explanation in her commentary recently published by the Washington Post.

Here’s a variant to the timeless question: How can you represent those people? This is a question often brought to bear by members of the general public. Indeed, some lawyers prefer not to handle certain types of criminal cases.

Even Smith, when she says she likes the clients she has represented, doesn’t mean “those who commit acts of such depravity that it’s painful to read news stories about them.” Rather: “I mean the vast majority of my clients, who, for a variety of reasons, have committed crimes but who are not evil.”

So when does Smith get around to explaining why a defense lawyer would defend a Castro? It’s when she takes herself out of the picture and looks at other lawyers defending their clients, as well as what happens to someone vilified for something they’re accused of doing.

One, Smith writes that even Castro’s lawyers said that their client wasn’t a monster. In other words, they found the humanity in him.

Two, who else will stand up for the accused when everyone else is calling for blood?