Technically, the primary role of a criminal defense attorney is not to prove innocence. In fact, in the eyes of the law, the defendant is presumed to be innocent.
The role of a criminal defense lawyer is to protect their clients’ rights. They do this by carrying out various tasks, such as conducting legal research or filing motions.
The prosecutor’s job is to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty of all elements of the alleged offense.
Now, it might seem that since the prosecutor presents evidence to prove guilt, it would follow that the defense presents evidence to prove innocence. Yet, defense counsel is essentially demonstrating weaknesses in proof and how the prosecutor has failed to meet their burden. By making their arguments, the defense lawyer says that, if we follow the rules of law, a judge or jury cannot be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the alleged crime. Therefore, they cannot convict the individual.
The defense attorney’s duties play a crucial part in ensuring that there are no miscarriages of justice. Were it not for the defense lawyer attending to the details and scrutinizing the actions of law enforcement officials during the investigation and prosecutors during prosecution, a person could be unjustly found guilty of a crime. In the most egregious circumstances, for instance, authorities could introduce whatever evidence against the defendant, regardless of how it was collected or whether it was relevant.
The Rights of a Defendant in a Criminal Case
Defendants have various rights, each established to ensure due process. In other words, these protections ensure that proper procedures are followed when determining whether someone is guilty of a crime and that their liberties are not unfairly restricted.
A few of the rights afforded defendants come from the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendments and include, but are not limited to:
- The right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures: Law enforcement officials cannot search a person or their property or take someone into custody without a warrant or probable cause.
- The right to remain silent: Anyone accused of, arrested for, or on trial for a crime cannot be compelled to make any statements against themselves, preventing them from saying anything that could be self-incriminating. Exercising this right should not be misconstrued as the defendant hiding something or indirectly admitting guilt.
- The right to confront witnesses: The defendant can cross-examine witnesses, allowing the opportunity for the trier of fact to hear the testimony directly and judge for themselves the credibility of the witness and believability of the statements. The right also prevents hearsay (outside statements made by someone not testifying in court) from being presented at trial unless exceptions exist.
- The right to a public trial: This protection ensures that the defendant’s proceedings are fair, as community members can witness the process. It also prevents misconduct from occurring that would unfairly lead to a conviction.
- The right to be heard by an impartial jury: Members of the county where the case is tried hear evidence presented by both the prosecutor and defense counsel to determine the verdict. Jurors are supposed to be unbiased and base their decisions only on what is introduced at trial. This right creates fairness by allowing the outcome to be determined by the community rather than one person who may act according to the commands of a higher authority.
- The right to counsel: Persons accused of crimes can choose to have an attorney represent them. This right facilitates more efficient and effective navigation of the criminal justice system, as the defendant themselves might not have the skills or knowledge to develop and present arguments.
The Effects of the Violation of a Defendant’s Rights
As noted several times throughout this blog, defendants have rights to ensure fairness during a criminal case. If authorities violate those protections, various adverse consequences can ensue.
For instance, an otherwise innocent person could be convicted of a crime. Their liberties and freedoms may be restricted, and their property forfeited without having had a proper chance to tell their side of the story.
Additionally, authorities violating the rights of the accused can undermine the public’s confidence in the justice system. Members of society might allege that corruption or underhanded dealings occurred during the judicial process. And while such assertions can and do arise nowadays, they could take place on a grander scale should blatant injustices continue to go unchecked.
Criminal defense attorneys work to remedy potential improprieties. Of course, even while counsel protects their client's rights, they cannot stop some irregularities from slipping through the cracks. However, they can do their best to uphold the law.
Methods Defense Attorneys Use to Protect Clients’ Rights
Defense counsel will employ several means to ensure that their client’s rights are protected. Their approach may begin with building a professional and trusting relationship with the individual. Establishing a rapport enables the lawyer to create a safe space where the client feels comfortable expressing themselves. It also allows counsel to better understand their client’s needs and goals. Counsel will also advise their client on what to say and do throughout their case to prevent self-incriminating statements.
The attorney may also research previous cases to see how courts have interpreted laws in similar situations. They will explain legal precedent to their client and possible courses the case could take. If actions occur in the case deviating from methods prescribed by law, the lawyer may file necessary motions to remedy injustices.
The defense lawyer may also investigate and analyze the facts to ensure that law enforcement officials and prosecutors followed the letter of the law when gathering evidence and building a case against their client. If anything was illegally obtained, the attorney might move to have the court deem it inadmissible at trial. The prosecutor cannot introduce evidence the court determines is not allowed in the case, which can effectively weaken their arguments and cast doubt in the minds of the judge or jury.
Call Our Firm to Get Started on Your Defense
At The Law Office of Thomas C. Thomasian, Esq., Attorney Tom Thomasian will zealously advocate on your behalf and vigorously defend you to ensure that your rights are protected. We will work honestly, ethically, and within our legal boundaries and are prepared to pursue an optimal outcome in your case.
For legal representation in Rhode Island, please call us at (401) 312-4385 or contact us online today.