For the defense: a look at the role of defense attorneys

Photo by Jason Morrison

ST. GEORGE Whether through media, popular culture, or other influences, it’s no secret that attorneys of any type are not always seen in a favorable light. However, they all play an important role in assuring that the American justice system gives everyone a chance to have their day in court.

Along with prosecutors, defense attorneys have a lengthy and complex history. Notable criminal cases and their verdicts helped shape many of today’s laws.

“Both are a crucial part of the justice system,” said Washington County Attorney Brock Belnap.

He continued: “They challenge the evidence in a case, hopefully allowing the truth to emerge and enabling the jury to find the rightful verdict. While we work very hard to prove the guilt of someone we believe is guilty, we also must ensure that people are not wrongfully prosecuted. [Defense attorneys] provide a restraint on our power by making sure everyone’s rights are protected.”

Captain James Van Fleet, who serves as the public information officer for the Saint George Police Department, adds that many people have the misconception that police and defense attorney are adversaries.

“That is not the case in our department,” Van Fleet said. “We view the defense in pretty much the same light as prosecutors in that their job is to protect their client. Police officers are often pressed to assist a defendant by their lawyer.”

Another factor that greatly affects how citizens view litigation is the so-called Court of Public Opinion, or usage of the press to gain support for one side of a court case. For both attorneys and investigators, there is a fine line between providing people with sufficient information and disclosing too much.

“The courts are a public institution and cases are a matter of public interest,” Belnap said. “However, the prosecution has a duty to assure that cases are not tried in the media first. We try to respect the public’s right to stay informed but also preserve the defendant’s right to a fair trial.”

“When charged [with a crime], most people are presumed guilty by the general public,” stated Aric Cramer, a Saint George-based criminal and family law attorney.

“Unfortunately, they also tend to think that anyone who would defend a guilty person is immoral,” Cramer added. “But we’re fighting for the constitutional rights of the presumed innocent.”

“There’s no type of charge I wouldn’t defend,” he said

Copyright 2011 St. George News. This material may not be published or rewritten without written consent.

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