Ask any criminal defense attorney how often he or she is asked this question and you are likely to hear "every time I turn around". Generally speaking, the question comes from friends, neighbors and other professionals, who have never had any personal experience with the criminal justice system. Since a person's "world view" is largely shaped by background experiences and life situations, those living on the "privileged" side of the street are inclined to believe that a person accused of a crime is guilty and that police, prosecutors, accusers and witnesses don't lie.
A common answer to the question posed above is that the criminal defense attorney isn't defending the person per se, but is defending the Constitution by demanding that the government abide by the fundamental principles set out in that sacred document. That is, of course, an important and worthy objective that most people can easily understand and accept. What is harder for many people to accept is that sometimes the government gets it wrong, whether by accident or design, and people's lives and freedom hang in the balance.
In the upcoming sequence of blog posts, let's take a look at some cases where a person was accused and, worse yet, convicted of a crime he or she simply did not commit. The first case, The McMartin Preschool Abuse Case, is particularly fascinating because it evoked a perfect storm for a criminal frenzy. The case involved a mother as the accuser, a whole slew of young children as the witnesses and a sordid topic. By and large, mothers and children are viewed as inherently honest and, in this case, that bias led to a rabid prosecution, and a media firestorm, where facts were ignored and other facts invented. The mother's accusations, as it turned out, were the ramblings of a paranoid schizophrenic and the children, all of whom initially denied being aware of any abuse were, through a series of leading questions and promises of rewards, eventually made to acquiesce to stories that supported the prosecution's theory. The McMartin case lasted seven years and cost 15 million dollars, the longest and most costly criminal prosecution in American history, and in the end resulted in no convictions. It did, however, result in the irrevocable destruction of many lives. Young Ray Buckey, just 25 years old and one of the principal defendants, spent five years in jail awaiting trial for a crime he did not commit. Additionally, the complete destruction of his reputation was unconscionable.
Interested in reading more about this gross miscarriage of justice? Click the link below.
Click HERE to read more about the McMartin Preschool Abuse Case.