A few weeks ago, an editor at the Berliner Zeitung asked if I might be interested in writing a piece about how lawyers defend death row inmates in the USA. I said ‘Sure, why not?’ (Beers may have been involved).
The piece was just published this weekend, you can read it here. It’s paywalled — as all the very best content is! — but you can register for a free 1-month subscription which you can cancel anytime. Alternately, you can send me an email and I’ll fix you up.
My intention in writing the piece was to avoid legalese as much as possible and instead talk about the practical issues that come up when defense lawyers are asked to defend clients in capital cases: Do you insist on a jury, or waive your right to a jury trial? (You go for the jury). Do you encourage your client to testify? (Never). Do you plead guilty? (Only if the prosecution takes the death penalty off the table; otherwise you insist on a full trial on the merits to raise the cost and expense to the State of killing your client). What do you tell your client about how to behave in court? (Do and say nothing). What sorts of evidence are most likely to convince a jury to spare your client? (Fancy experts often backfire).
Throughout, I assumed the client in our hypothetical case was clearly guilty, which is usually the case, and that the crime was serious and shocking, which it usually is, at least to jury members not used to wallowing in human depravity. I wanted to show how a criminal defense lawyer thinks about ordinary, everyday cases which will never be made into documentaries. Just for fun, I inserted a jab at Tatort, calling it a “fantasy series which has nothing to do with the real world.” No offense intended.
There’s nothing really ground-breaking here, you could get most of this simply by following criminal-defense blogs in the USA. But I thought it might provide an interesting reality check for German readers, who usually get news about the American criminal justice system filtered through a thick, cloudy lens of ideology.
I hope my German-Powered™ readers enjoy it. Comments and questions gladly read and answered as time permits.