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Here's commenter tressa with an interesting point on Willingham's laughable defense attorney, David Martin. I'm not a lawyer. I'd be very interested in how many lawyers agree with this perspective, especially after watching the interview:

As a lawyer, I am ashamed that this man is a member of my profession. As a defense attorney, I am horrified that he's on my side of the bar. His approach to defense work is not only unethical, it also appears to be sanction-worthy.

As an attorney, your job is to be a zealous advocate for your client. Period. You job is NOT to determine for yourself whether your client is guilty or innocent and then provide a defense accordingly. Your job is not to make a determination that a witness for the other side is a "straight shooter" and then cross-examine him with all due deference. Your job is not discredit potentially exculpatory evidence because it doesn't jive with your personal theory of the case or your personal impressions of the defendant. Your job is not to conduct "scientific" investigations on your own and then use those investigations to confirm your belief that your client is guilty and probably deserves to be executed. Your job is not to honor the prosecution and defer to law enforcement or make their jobs easier for them. And your job certainly isn't to go on national television after YOUR CLIENT has been EXECUTED and say, "Yeah, but he was a bad dude, anyway."


When defense attorneys fail to do anything other than zealously advocate for their clients, the integrity of our judicial system breaks down and due process is severely jeopardized. Although many people would have defense attorneys do little other than sit in the courtroom and make sure that something *really* unfair doesn't happen(because God forbid anyone get off on a "technicality"), this viewpoint runs deeply contrary to the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendments, and threatens some of our most deeply held notions of justice. Unfortunately, many defense attorneys themselves hold these notions (Mr. Martin being Exhibit A).

Everyone always wants to hold up the easy cases as evidence of the strength of our judicial system -- the defendant that gets off when the DNA test comes back negative, the wife beater that's convicted after a series of witnesses talk about the bruises on his wife -- but it's the tough cases that count. Do we release the defendant that's been subject to abusive law enforcement practices that violated his Fifth Amendment rights, or do we keep him in jail because letting him go would be letting him off on a "technicality"? Do we offer the accused child molester a competent and zealous defense attorney, or do we cry foul as soon as counsel puts up a tough fight against the prosecution? Do we practice what we preach? Do we take constitutional protections seriously when the rubber meets the road? Or, do we defer, as other commenters noted, to white populism and what we personally think about the defendant? In Texas, it seems like the latter and it seems like all of the relevant legal players are quite happy with it being that way.

Some good points in tressa's follow-up, also.

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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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