Should Lawyers Only Represent Innocent People?

A news story in Ohio talks about a lawyer who makes criminal clients take a polygraph test. If they pass the polygraph, the lawyer will represent them. If they fail it, they’re shown the door. From the article:

“An agreement with our staff is that we won’t take any sexual-conduct cases unless there’s a reasonable probability that our client is innocent,” Koffel said.

Several times a month, he and his staff, in offices near Grandview Heights, interview prospective clients “to establish a smell test,” followed by a polygraph. Those who appear to be lying are shown the exit.

“We’ve had guys come in and fail polygraphs, and we never see them again … we’re done with them,” Koffel said.

Let’s put aside the obvious problems with polygraph tests as a magic “guilt-o-meter” and focus on what’s really going on here. This is another example of what lawyers like David Aylor believe – that there must be a “reasonable probability” that their client is innocent, otherwise they will not represent them.

Granted, criminal defense is not for everyone. I get that. Some people believe that the police get it right most if not all of the time, and that prosecutors wouldn’t go after an innocent person. Some people believe that as soon as a person is accused of a crime they should have fewer rights than everyone else. Some attorneys believe that their clients have to be worthy of their representation.

It’s a gimmicky criminal defense lawyer saying, but it’s true: all your clients are innocent (unless you’re handling their appeal). A criminal defense lawyer’s job isn’t to prove the innocence of their client, but to make sure the state has to prove their guilt beyond and to the exclusion of every reasonable doubt. Whether or not your client did anything wrong shouldn’t enter into that equation.