An Over Glorification of Crime Fighters

We take great umbrage at this article in the Centre Daily Times, TV prosecutors now have the upper hand on defense attorneys.

On the one hand, it accurately points out a reality that criminal defense lawyers have been up against for sometime: that people are more apt to believe in guilty until proven innocent than the other way around, and that in the media, guilt sells while stories about innocence don't get much play.

But we have to take uber-producer Dick Wolf to task for his comments. Wolf is the producer of Law & Order and innumerable other television series that glorify cops and prosecutors and always feature a guilty defendant.

Now Mr. Wolf is a very personable man and obviously a tremendous success as a television executive. But the following comments are totally one-sided and really stretch the truth--and cause damage to the public's perception of our system of justice--and next time we run into him, we'll tell him so ourselves.

"Any of the people you see" working as assistant DAs in "Crime & Punishment" "could clean out their desks on a Friday afternoon and double or triple their salary on Monday morning" by going to work in a law firm, Wolf said recently.

"They really do think they're doing God's work."

"Moreover, he said...I don't hold criminal defense attorneys in very high regard, based on what they do for a living, which is basically getting guilty people off."

Now come on, Mr. Wolf. You don't think public defenders believe they're doing God's work? You don't think they couldn't get a job in a corporate firm earning twice or three times as much?

The lawyers who dedicate themselves to freeing the innocent, that's not God's work to them?

The lawyers who make a career of trying to save a life in a death penalty trial, while underfunded, understaffed and underpaid, you don't think they believe they're doing God's work?

Prosecutors and Public Defenders have a few things in common: Both groups have chosen public service, and in so doing, they have sacrificed more financially rewarding opportunities to become overworked and often under-appreciated public servants. Prosecutors have no leg up on defenders in terms of doing God's work.

Trends come and go. In the 80's, LA Law and defense lawyers were on top. This past decade, it's been all about guilt and cops and DA's. Just wait, a few more years of Ashcroft, the Patriot Act, secret detentions and programs like TIPS and Total Information Awareness, and the tables will turn again.

One other thing. The majority of prosecutors don't stay in it for the length of their careers. They leave and become....private criminal defense lawyers. Look into the background of the lawyers for the Enron and WorldCom and other high-level corporate crime defendants, and more often than not they will have "former U.S. Attorney" in their bios. What happened to their belief in "God's work?" But how many criminal defense lawyers can you name who left the practice to become prosecutors? Which stay truer to their beliefs? Or put another way, whose beliefs were truer in the first place?

[edited to correct spelling of Mr. Wolf's name. It is Dick Wolf, not Dick Wolfe as we originally posted.]

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