Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Talking about our experiences at GJP - this week : Forrest Graham

Starting this week we will run a series talking of your experience at GJP. This week's featured author is Forrest Graham

I never wanted to do defense work. You’ve no doubt heard the litany of common reasons – who wants to defend the guilty? Isn’t it even … slightly morally repugnant to do so? How do you sleep at night? … and of course, there’s no money in it. Despite these objections, or perhaps because of them, as a third year law student I decided to extern at GJP – a personal experiment to see what legal defense work was all about.

I immediately made two surprising observations: first, GJP was a family, not a firm and secondly, every family member was (contagiously) passionate about what they were doing. I jumped right in with the legal work. Under the guidance of several different attorneys, I screened/interviewed potential clients, conducted background research, reviewed legal strategy, visited clients in jail and went on information-gathering “field trips.”

In many ways Andrew’s case typifies my GJP experience. Andrew was accused of armed robbery - $100 dollars from a Dollar Store. Nothing glamorous – not much money, no deaths or injuries, no high speed police chase. Andrew lived with his mother and sister. He couldn’t afford a car and certainly couldn’t afford a defense attorney. I went with a GJP attorney to jail to interview Andrew; afterwards, we pored over witness statements and the police report, we listened to the 911 call repeatedly (I think I still have it memorized), we visited the crime scene, we spent hours discussing courtroom strategy and researching relevant case law and we went to the prosecutor’s office to talk plea bargain.

Andrew’s case typifies my GJP experience not so much because of the crime or the client but because Andrew received much more than effective assistance of counsel – the minimum of what the law requires – he received passionate, zealous representation. His representation mattered to him of course, but it should matter to all of us too – the quality of that representation is an accurate measure of how much we value Justice, and that’s really what criminal defense is all about.

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