Dzhokhar Tsarnaev: How can any lawyer defend this “Terrorist?”

I used to represent individuals charged with crimes.  Photo: AP

WASHINGTON, D.C., April 29, 2013 – The Sixth Amendment of our Constitution provides that anyone charged with a crime is guaranteed the right to an attorney, a role I have assumed. 

The court presumes the innocence of those charged until they are proven guilty by the government. Guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. 

SEE RELATED: Attorney integrity takes a hit: Disbarred for excessive client billing

This standard, beyond a reasonable doubt, is the highest standard the law provides, because liberty, and potentially life are at stake, and to take either from someone accused of a crime is absolutely the most serious consequence. 

Thus, the highest standard of proof is required.

I stopped representing alleged criminals early on in my legal career.  I found I had an internal conflict.  I simply could not represent people I knew were guilty.

Nonetheless, we should applaud and root for my brother and sister attorneys who do criminal defense work.  I recognize the absolute bottom line needed for their 100% effort in each and every case. 

SEE RELATED: Why the Supreme Court will kill DOMA and Prop 8

Without good attorneys who serve as a “check” on the government, all of us know, that many who are innocent would be railroaded, incarcerated, and even put to death.

Dzhokhar Tsarneav is charged in the Boston bombings.  By all observations, he is guilty. He has the right to a fair and impartial trial, where the government must prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that he was involved in the planning and execution of what many are calling a terrorist act.

Three federal public defenders have been assigned the representation of Tsarneav. The attorneys are Miriam Conrad, William Fick, and Timothy Watkins.  They are being scorched in the social media, if not by name, collectively, for “trying to help” Tsarneav. These attorneys are not trying to help Tsarneav.  They are protecting you and me. 

They are protecting our legal rights. 

SEE RELATED: DNA and the Supreme Court: Your privacy vs. crime solving

They are upholding the Constitution.

Do you agree that if you are charged with a crime, you should have the right to a trial before you are simply pronounced guilty and the proverbial “keys” are thrown away?

Some politicians want to strip Tsarneav of his rights and classify him as any enemy combatant. 

This would be unprecedented and a gross violation of the Constitution. If this is done, denying Tsarneav of his due process rights, what would prevent the government from doing that to anybody?

One client I represented was a young man charged with drunk driving. The prosecutor messed up terribly and that client was acquitted. I won the case for him by pointing out the prosecutor’s proof fallicies. 

I felt horrible. I recognized I did good legal work. Because of me, that prosecutor never made the same mistakes again. Because of me, that prosecutor was thereafter more careful and more successful in keeping us safe from drunk drivers. 

I felt horrible, because my efforts also resulted in a “walk” for someone who should have been punished.  Punishment is a deterrent for bad acts. Maybe the experience of simply being charged, handcuffed, going to jail briefly and being scared out of his mind turned my client around. 

Clearly if he had been convicted, there would have been a higher likelihood that his future behavior would have been changed. 

I have also represented many individuals charged with crimes who were in fact not guilty.  My legal worked proved their innocence. In my gut, these cases for me were not just “doing my job,” but they were causes. I HAD to win. My clients’ COULD NOT be convicted:  they were innocent!  How could the government get it wrong? My clients NEEDED me. 

Well, they needed a good legal defense. Imagine the result and the feeling if there was a bad legal defense. Imagine if I just went through the motions and because I may have felt these clients were guilty, I did as little as possible “to assure they got their rights,” and then, because of my half-hearted effort, truly innocent people were convicted and punished. 

I recognized I did not have the right to decide the guilt or innocence of any client.  Even when I was flatly told “I did it,” my job was still to defend them 100%. 

This might then mean working on the degree of punishment, or pushing for rehab programs instead of prison.

I recognized my conflict early on and knew I was not the right type of person to do criminal defense work. I am human and my emotions too often went to feelings about the victims of my clients’ acts. I couldn’t continue criminal defense work.

Despite my personal conflict, in my legal mind and heart I know I will forever demand that the government prove the guilt of those it charges with crimes.  Like most of us, I also applaud prosecutors who convict bad guys and rejoice that those bad guys are being punished.

I rejoice when I hear stories about wrongfully convicted individuals being exonerated and getting out of jail. I am the first to want to represent these people in their civil claims against the government, to compensate them for the numerous wrongs perpetrated against them, not the least of which was the depravation of their liberty. I haven’t ever represented anybody in that capacity.  If given the chance, I know I would have 110% of my soul in that case, yet I also know that if I were the defense attorney during the prosecution and things “looked like” my client was guilty, my heart likely would not have been there.

Dzhokhar Tsameav’s fate will be determined by our criminal justice system.  The prosecutor is said to be excellent. The criminal defense team is also highly touted. 

Miriam Conrad heads the Federal Public Defender Office in Boston.  She might be best known for defending “shoe bomber” Richard Reid in 2001 after he tried to blow up a Paris to Miami jetliner.

May justice be done.

Paul A. Samakow is an attorney licensed in Maryland and Virginia, and has been practicing since 1980.  He represents injury victims and routinely battles insurance companies and big businesses that will not accept full responsibility for the harms and losses they cause. He can be reached at any time by calling 1-866-SAMAKOW (1-866-726-2569), via email, or through his website. He is also available to speak to your group on numerous legal topics.  Paul is the featured legal analyst on the Washington Times Radio, in Washington, D.C., on the Andy Parks show, the featured legal analyst for America’s Radio News Network, heard in 165 markets nationwide, and he is a columnist on the Washington Times Communities.

His book The 8 Critical Things Your Auto Accident Attorney Won’t Tell You is free to Maryland and Virginia residents and can be obtained by ordering it on his website; others can obtain it on Amazon.





This article is the copyrighted property of the writer and Communities @ Written permission must be obtained before reprint in online or print media. REPRINTING TWTC CONTENT WITHOUT PERMISSION AND/OR PAYMENT IS THEFT AND PUNISHABLE BY LAW.

More from Leading Edge Legal Advice for Everyday Matters
blog comments powered by Disqus
Paul Samakow

Attorney Paul Samakow brings his legal expertise to the headlines from life and real-life experience to The Washington Times Communties. A native Washingtonian, Samakow has been a Plaintiff’s trial lawyer since 1980, with offices in Maryland and Virginia. 

Contact Paul Samakow


Please enable pop-ups to use this feature, don't worry you can always turn them off later.

Question of the Day
Photo Galleries
Popular Threads
Powered by Disqus