I had a meeting at the office of the Public Defender in one of the cities near here today. The Public Defender’s office are government attorneys available to the indigent; those that cannot afford an attorney on their own. It’s the fulfillment of the Constitutional right most people are aware of through t.v. where the officer tells them, “you have the right to an attorney; if you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you.”
As I was waiting in the lobby, several people made their way in for appointments with an attorney in the Public Defender’s office. I watched as two men, one in his early twenties and the other in his fifty’s, took their clipboards and sat down. Unlike the others that had come in, these two men each handed their clipboards to someone with them. The men would tell their people what their answers were and have them written for them. Apparently they were not able to read and write for themselves.
What immediately came to mind was that it was these men that need an advocate more than most others. These men highlighted the need of a right to counsel because without someone to stand in with them and present their interests, then justice could easily give way to abuse. A better educated, successful defendant would be able to make some reasonable arguments in their own defense but what chance would these guys have?
It also led me to think of how people will sometimes ask about how I could consider defending “guilty people.” Maybe it’s the point of emphasis on that particular phrase; a choice to focus on the “people” over the “guilty” part of their description. People usually find themselves in their circumstances after years of influences; not by simply waking up one morning and deciding to head the wrong direction.
Where would a lifetime or generations of poverty and a lack of intelligence, opportunity or education leave most of us? What cynicism, desperation, hurt and anger would most people walk around with and how would it manifest in our behavior? This doesn’t excuse behavior but it does release any reservations regarding defending people who might have done “it.”
It’s easy to judge and assume that we are superior to those that we hear about who find themselves in trouble. We should not lose sight of mercy in our quest for justice. It certainly makes us better stewards of our Blessings when we walk with appreciation for the fact that if we had lived with different circumstance, it could be us on the wrong side of the clipboard.