The Right to Counsel – The Bedrock of the Criminal Justice System

The right to counsel is the very core of the American constitution. An attorney plays a vital role in advising a client of their rights and by using their expertise to guide the client through any given legal situation. Not only is the right to counsel in the spirit of our founding documents, but was reaffirmed in Gideon v. Wainwright (1963) when the Supreme Court decided that an indigent client had a constitutional right to counsel. In deciding this case, Justice Harlan asserted that “the mere existence of a serious criminal charge constitute[s], in itself, special circumstances requiring the services of counsel at trial”. This sentiment has been echoed throughout the courts and our system of justice at large ever since. However, is the right to counsel as crucial when someone has already been found guilty in the court of public opinion? According to the recent actions taken by Harvard University, they have decided that it is not.

The Right to Council vs The Court of Public Opinion

Recently, faculty dean and professor at Harvard Law School, Ron Sullivan, was ousted from his position after joining the defense team of Harvey Weinstein, a notable director accused of sexual abuse allegations against numerous women celebrities. The sanctimonious outrage by students and fellow staff at Sullivan’s decision to defend Harvey Weinstein, a man, presumed innocent may I remind you, was truly disconcerting. The principles affirmed in Gideon have been replaced with a new age of “cancel culture” and moral outrage at attorneys who still value the concept of the right to counsel for all. Regardless of one’s thoughts of the man being defended or the crimes he has been accused of, our constitution demands zealous defense, which should persist no matter the circumstance. Just as surgeons don’t decline to operate on “bad people”, lawyers too are held to the same standard of professional conduct.

Associating Attorneys With Their Clients – Right or Wrong?

The right to counsel starts to decay the moment we begin to fault attorneys for the alleged acts of their clients. A lawyer being ostracized for their client’s alleged actions and being removed from their position at a university should shock the collective conscience of America’s legal community. It is additionally upsetting to see this unfounded outrage from students at what is considered one of the finest legal institutions in the nation. I wonder what these outraged Harvard students would say if the premise were instead an indigent client accused of these acts? Should we rail against the public defender who zealously defends that individual in a court of law for representing an individual accused of such crimes? I am sure you will be offered the politically correct answer that no matter the case or financial ability, a right to counsel is paramount. However, when it comes to cases in popular culture of a wealthy, famous man retaining highly regarded counsel, it is suddenly a blemish on that attorneys’ career and shameful. This hypocrisy is jarring. No matter one’s thoughts on Harvey Weinstein, those feelings should not be redirected at his counsel, none the less by attorneys and law students who should understand these concepts better than anyone. When it becomes too great a burden to bear to represent an individual in the public eye accused of criminal acts, we have lost our way. In order to protect the rights of the innocent, it is important that we protect the rights of all, even more so the unpopular defendants.

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