Defending the Guilty

By Leavitt, Michele | The Humanist, January-February 1997 | Go to article overview

Defending the Guilty


Leavitt, Michele, The Humanist


The first time I meet Lisa, she's in the courthouse lockup, a six-by-twelve, foot cement-block cell that smells like a hundred people breathing out cigarette smoke and alcohol vapors. I run through my questions: address, age, schooling, marital status. She sits on the edge of the toilet, looks up at me seductively through her morbidly black false eye, lashes, and whispers, "I'm a widow."

Lisa is a prostitute as well as a widow and, like many street walkers, she sells her services to support her drug habit. This first time I defend her, she's in for prostitution and possession of a needle and syringe. The prosecutor and the judge want her held on a high bad. I argue with the judge: it's a victimless crime, it's a waste of the state's money to lock her up, and there are no programs for her in jail. And, I say, the police don't arrest the male customers, although they could. This woman is being denied her equal-protection rights. The judge finally agrees - or maybe he just gets sick of my harangue. He lets her walk. Lisa tells me I'm the world's greatest lawyer. I walk out of the court, house with her. The late March sun makes us both squint; it's very bright, still low in the sky.

As New England warms to spring, Lisa's new cases mount up, and old ones she's in default on keep floating to the surface. By the end of summer, I represent her on over a dozen complaints: shoplifting, possessing and selling heroin and cocaine, common nightwalking, pickpocketing her johns, and violating her probation, as well as the social services case against her for being an unfit mother. We get along pretty well. She has a quirky sense of humor that matches my own.

Then her social worker calls to tell me she caught Lisa shooting up during a visit with her little girl. I'm ticked off because I've fought long and hard with everyone - the social worker, the agency's lawyer, Lisa's daughter's lawyer, the judge - so that Lisa could have that visit.

The next time I see her, she's in custody on a new drug case, handcuffed to a tall, mean-looking woman who's charged with armed robbery. The two are snuggled together in the prisoners, dock, putting on a subtle show for an old man sitting in the front row of the courtroom. I lean over the oak railing of the dock, blocking his view, and tell Lisa that her options are no longer open. She should have gone into a detox program, she should have gone to therapy, she should have apologized to the social worker. Now she'll have to do some time. But in the future she should stop behaving in a self-destructive fashion, she should get a job, get an apartment, get her daughter back. Her lips thin and flatten, and her eyes turn vacant. Should. She disconnects her gaze from mine like she couldn't care less.

I still defend her. I threaten that I'll make the prosecutor try all 12 of her pending cases, that I'll have them writing memos on sex discrimination until the end of the world. They cave in and agree to a good deal: wrapping up all her pending cases with a 30-day prison term and a suspended sentence. This is her punishment for being guilty of everything she was accused of - and probably much more.

People always ask public defenders: "How can you defend someone who you know is guilty?" Sometimes I try to answer that question by talking about what defend means or what guilty means, but I rarely try to answer by talking about what someone means. I suppose that's because it's so easy to label someone whos a defendant - hooker, drug addict, murderer. And it's so much work, so complicated, so unfashionable to talk about those some, ones as individuals.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Defending the Guilty
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.