Some of the most common questions defense attorneys get ask are in regard to the potential guilt of a client: “What if your client is guilty?”, “How can a lawyer represent a guilty client?”, “What if your client confesses to you and you win?” These queries range from the existential to the practical and affect the practice of every criminal defense attorney in Florida and across the United States. In some circumstances this can amount of an ethical quandary, but the way the criminal justice system is setup prevents there being an issue on a day to day basis.
Legally Guilty vs. Factually Guilty
When a layman asks one of these questions, they are usually talking about a defendant being factually guilty of a crime. This means all the elements of a crime actually occurred and theoretically are satisfied, this is not the same as legally guilty. In the criminal justice system, all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty through a willing and voluntary plea or the ruling by a finder of fact (either a jury in a jury trial or a judge in a bench trial). In the legal sense, a defense attorney that is hired the standard positioning of a case – pre-verdict – always represents an innocent person, because that’s the presumption according to the law. Oftentimes its very unclear for all people involved whether or not someone is factually guilty, that’s why the legal determination is made.
This distinction cuts deeper though, people normally think of the stereotypical attorney with a guilty client they want to “get off.” The criminal justice system is not designed to find every factually guilty person legally guilty, namely those who’s rights have been violated. If police barge into a person’s home and find a cache of drugs, that person is factually guilty. If that now defendant’s fourth amendment rights were violated because there was no warrant or probable cause for the search, they should not be found legally guilty because that evidence should be excluded. Conversely, factually innocent defendants are sometimes found guilty falsely, in those circumstances the person is not factually guilty, but legally guilty regardless. It’s important when charged with a crime to hire an experienced attorney who is able to handle the case and make sure both of those scenarios result in a finding of not guilty.
Ethics vs. Morals
Ethics and morals – while often synonymous – have two different meanings for defense attorneys. Ethics are the strict rules put into place to protect the rights of clients, namely criminal defendants. Morals are the nebulous rules of right and wrong. Many crimes are objectively immoral, but attorney ethics require that those accused (factually guilty or factually innocent) are afforded a competent and an ethical defense. Defense attorneys are able to represent those accused – even those factually guilty – of immoral crimes because of the importance that every individual have fair treatment under the law. The purpose of the criminal justice system is not just to punish those who are guilty, but even more importantly to make sure everyone has a fair trial and every opportunity for a competent defense. An experience and ethical attorney does not ask the internal question, “is my client guilty?” but instead asks themselves, “what can I do to make sure the government is held to their burden, to make sure that they have a proper defense, to fight for their rights because that’s what preserves the system and the freedoms that all Americans are afforded?” It is important if you are accused of a crime to contact a Florida criminal defense attorney that will ask these questions. Don Pumphrey and the firm have years of experience representing defendants every imaginable type of criminal case in Florida. They are dedicated to defending the rights of clients and will fight for the best possible disposition or dismissal of your case. Call (850) 681-7777 or contact us today to discuss your rights during an open and free consultation with our legal team.
What if a Client Confesses?
It’s important to remember when contacting an attorney that the communications are confidential. There are some fringe exceptions, but generally communications about past criminal activity are still covered under this rule, even a confession to the crime the defendant is accused of. As discussed above, this should not impact the representation of an ethical, experienced and professional criminal defense attorney. There is a caveat, a defense attorney with a client who has confessed cannot later allow any witness to testify to a fact they know to be false, that would apply to a defendant testifying at trial. It is nevertheless a common occurrence for a defendant to confess to an attorney that they are factually guilty, but later be found legally not guilty. This can arise through deferment programs, exclusion of evidence, arguments at trial regarding intent or credibility, ect. At the end of the day, if the government cannot prove their case, the criminal justice system is designed to find that defendant not guilty. It is crucial when accused of a crime to investigate every possible resolution of the case and find an attorney who is focused not on factual guilt but legal guilty. The attorneys at Pumphrey Law have decades of experience representing clients in an ethical and professional manner in order to push the criminal justice system to its purpose and preserve the rights of clients. The entire legal team is dedicated to this fight and will do anything possible to receive a dismissal, a positive plea disposition or a not guilty verdict. Call (850) 681-7777 or send an online message today to discuss your rights during an open and free consultation with our legal team.
Attorney Don Pumphrey, Jr. is a former prosecutor, former law enforcement officer, and a successful and experienced criminal defense attorney. Don has achieved over 100 not guilty verdicts at trial and over 2,000 dismissals.