If you are like me, the image of Justice you are most familiar with is a woman, blindfolded, and holding a scales and sword. I always understood the blindfold to represent Justice’s blindness to the person and equal treatment of all before the law – this was something I had never questioned before. However, I learned something interesting recently on a trip to D.C. Traditionally throughout history, Justice was depicted without a blindfold. The Supreme Court even has a Frieze on the West wall of the courtroom depicting Justice, leaning on a sword, staring down the forces of evil, with no blindfold. When the blindfold did first appear on Lady Justice, it was a commentary as to the Justice system’s tolerance of abuse and ignorance of its own problems. Let me preface the rest of my thoughts with this statement: I believe we have the best system of Justice anywhere in the world today – that doesn’t mean I won’t advocate for ways to improve it – or that it doesn’t have flaws – but I don’t believe there is a better working example in existence. Now, back to my original point, why is Justice blindfolded anyway? Do we really believe that everyone is treated equally before the law? Do you think that you or I would receive the same treatment by the FBI and DOJ as Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton? Does a poor Defendant from Baltimore or Mississippi have the same chance of acquittal as Sen. Bob Menendez, O.J. Simpson, or Robert Blake? Does a Defendant’s appearance, speech, or wealth really not impact a Judge or Jury’s decision? Of course, we all want the answers to these questions to be Yes, but we all know that simply isn’t true. People in Georgia are serving prison sentences because of a plant that is legal in 11 states and decriminalized in 13 more. 20 States (including the District of Columbia) have abolished the death penalty, 4 States have a Governor imposed a moratorium on the death penalty, and 26 States still actively impose the death sentence. Defendants routinely receive wildly different sentences and plea offers based on what jurisdiction the are charged in – in some areas a probation only sentence would be a 3-year prison sentence an hour North or South from there. In certain jurisdictions, Defendants are penalized for arguing motions by having their ability to enter a negotiated plea taken away after, or penalized for going to trial by receiving a much harsher sentence if they are found guilty than if they had entered a guilty plea. A Defendant’s chance at receiving a fair trial may depend on the Judge that is assigned to the case. A Defendant who is clearly innocent may have their charges dropped or a Defendant with a compelling need who admits their guilt may receive a much more just sentence if a fair-minded prosecutor is handling the case. A Defendant who hires or is appointed a lazy Defense Attorney who is ready to plead out a case for a quick resolution will never have the same chance at an acquittal, dismissal, or otherwise good resolution that they would be afforded with a professional Defense Attorney who ferociously defends their Clients. We openly discuss the adversarial nature of our justice system. We don’t have a system made up of completely unbiased and all-knowing tribunals who act summarily to decide guilt or innocence. Prosecutors and law enforcement agencies attempt to incarcerate Defendants. Defense Attorneys fight for acquittals for those same Defendants. Judges and Juries make decisions based on our advocacy. We know our system isn’t perfect. We discuss the issues we are facing. Yet, we still pretend Justice is blind. I believe our Justice system only works when the blindfold is removed. When Defense Attorneys recognize their role in our system – to fight fiercely and unflinchingly for the Client – recognize their problems inherent in our system and confront them boldly – recognize the pain and fear our Clients face and honor that. Do you want your Justice blindfolded? Or do you want your Justice to be clear-eyed, forward-looking, and ready to fight? I say its past time to remove the blindfold from our Justice system. To confront the flaws we know exist. To fight for Justice at each and every opportunity.
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