It is extremely easy to demonize criminal defense attorneys; indeed, it’s even popular to do so. Watch any television legal drama. Most of them, with one or two notable exceptions, focus on the District Attorney and the police, painting them as heroes while the defense lawyers are almost universally portrayed as sleazy, profit-obsessed, and even corrupt. This portrayal couldn’t be further from the truth, and is insulting to honest Colorado criminal law attorneys.
This isn’t to say that there aren’t corrupt and underhanded defense lawyers out there-just like with any profession, there are bad apples. But the District Attorney’s office isn’t always full of white knights, either. Recently, former DA Myrl Serra pleaded guilty to sexual misconduct and extortion related to three women.
Though sentencing will not be until January, Serra faces up to twelve years in prison for his acts. Suddenly, he looks a bit more like one of the prosecution attorneys on the TV series Harry’s Law than he does a heroic ADA on Law and Order.
The point here is not to attack the district attorney’s office. Far from it; though the DA and criminal defense lawyers almost always find themselves on opposite sides of the battle lines, both sides perform an important function in our legal system, and both sides have to believe wholeheartedly in what they do in order to be effective at their job.
Defense attorneys are not villains, contrary to what much of the media might have us believe. The landscape is rarely that black and white; both defense attorneys and district attorneys fill important roles, and both are at times heroic. Sometimes, just sometimes, District Attorneys wrongfully convict innocent people, and sometimes defense attorneys save the life of an innocent who is wrongly accused.