Over my three years of law school, I sat through a lot of class time, so not every pearl of wisdom from my professors has stuck with me, but I will always remember when my criminal law professor said “I hate when people say he or she got off on a technicality, those are your constitutional rights, not a technicality.” To be honest, I did not have intentions of going into criminal law at this point, but for some reason that quote really caught my attention. I think it was because I had always viewed it as people were getting off on a technicality and this challenged my way of understanding our criminal system. It is generally understood, among legal minds, that our system is setup with the goal that it is better for guilty men and women to go free than for an innocent defendant to be found guilty.
Of course, when this actually happens, it is understandably very frustrating for your average person. They see criminals gaming the system and finding technicalities or loopholes. My question is, if we said “He got off because his rights were violated or because the law was not written to punish exactly what he did.” would we be happier with our criminal system? I know that no one would be jumping for joy or feeling like the right thing happened, but maybe we would feel less distrust of our system. Now this obviously does not address the numerous other issues people have with our criminal system and I realize this is just small part, but maybe it would help some.
The interesting part for me as a criminal lawyer is that clients will often think that I have a secret list of loopholes that I can employee in case of emergency. What I am really doing is looking for violations of my client’s rights, problems with the evidence, or finding issues with the law itself. I have to tell most clients that I do not have a magic wand and that I can only work with the facts and evidence I have.