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Public Perception V. Law: A Defense Of The Justice System This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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   As the fall-out from the O.J. verdict slowly starts to dissipate, the public is sure to be reminded just how many months the trial took to conclude. We will be reminded of all the controversial rulings, the screaming matches in the courtroom, the strategic blunders of both prosecution and defense. Welcome to the legal system of America: a bumbling circus in which guilt or innocence is determined by how much cash you have to pay for lawyers, and where truth is tossed out the window in favor of drama any day of the week. At least that's what the public perceives it to be. As is the nature of our legal system, however, I believe that even something as obviously flawed deserves a voice to speak in its favor.

In light of the Simpson trial, the legal system has often been referred to in terms of a circus. The festive and explosive atmosphere of many trials, however, is not due to any true flaw in the system but to the manipulative power of the media. Is there any doubt that the Simpson trial would have long been over if TV cameras had not been allowed inside the courtroom? For evidence of how a trial can function if its members are not playing to a TV audience, one need look no further than the Susan Smith trial, a fine example of our legal system at its best. Do not accept the Simpson trial as the standard for court proceedings, but, instead, view it as an example of what can go wrong if the system is not respected.

There has also been much discussion about the "immorality" of our justice system and its blatant neglect for ethics. These musing have spawned countless jokes and denunciations of lawyers, a profession which is now held in considerable contempt by the general public. Although it is beyond question that there are unprincipled lawyers and that the profession is overpopulated, much of this criticism is unwarranted and unreasonable. Our entire system is based upon the premise that all accused people are entitled to the best defense that can be provided to them. Since it would be ridiculous to have defendants argue their own cases, it is lawyers who provide this service, to even the most despicable, wretched, and "obviously" guilty. Often when such defendants are brought to trial - whether it be the Menendez brothers or Susan Smith - people are disgusted that they are given as many rights as they are, and that there even is a trial. How can a lawyer defend such a person, especially if the lawyer truly believes that the defendant is guilty? The answer is simple: absolute faith and belief in the system. What would happen if lawyers refused to defend anyone they thought was guilty? In the Simpson case, there have been nationwide polls to "determine" his guilt or innocence. What if that became the standard practice: decide who has the right to a trial and who does not by means of a public opinion poll?

The cornerstone of the legal system is that it is better to let the guilty go free than to punish the innocent. It's a lawyer's duty to maintain the system and to defend anyone - even those who are guilty - in order to preserve it. For, indeed, the preservation of the system ensures that those who are truly innocent, regardless of what the public perceives, have every right available to them in order to avoid punishment. And what treatment would be more ethical than that?

I would like to ask you, ladies and gentlemen of the jury: if you were ever accused of a crime you did not commit, would you want the right to defend yourself? Would you want the privilege of a trial even if the media had already tried and convicted you? Would you want to be allowed to face your accusers? Would you want the right to a lawyer and would you want the lawyer to defend you regardless of his or her opinion of you?

Or would you rather be presumed guilty until proven innocent - as is the standard in other parts of the world? How about allowing your fate to be determined by an opinion poll of uninformed citizens? I didn't think so. The defense rests its case. ?


This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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