Defending a Guilty Party

Watch the following educational legal video by New York Criminal Defense Attorney Robert Aiello as he answers the commonly asked question of “how do you represent someone that you know is guilty?”

My friends often ask, “As a criminal defense attorney, how can you represent someone whom you know has committed a crime? Doesn’t that bother you or your conscience?” In response, I tell them, “I’m not here to judge people. They’re going to be judged by someone higher than myself. What I’m here to do is to protect their rights.”

People are often charged with crimes that carry a much higher degree of charges than is merited by what they may have actually done. Although someone may have committed a crime such as robbery in the third degree, grand larceny in the third degree, or even manslaughter, the District Attorney’s office may decide to charge them with murder in the first degree, grand larceny in the first degree, or criminal mischief in the first degree. In other words, by their nature, prosecutors, the federal government, and the United States Attorney’s office are mandated to charge people at the highest possible level they can prove beyond a reasonable doubt.

We often disagree about the appropriate charge in a given case. For instance, when a crime has been committed and the District Attorney’s office thinks the offender should go to jail for 15 years, we may agree that a crime has been committed; however, we may think probation – or, at most, a year or two in jail – is a more appropriate sentence or punishment. We often have big differences of opinion as to the actual crime that’s been committed and, more importantly, what the sentence should be. When we disagree about what the punishment should be, that is often where the battle lines are drawn.

Sometimes, we’re forced to go to trial because we can’t obtain a disposition that we consider fair and just under the circumstances. We go to trial and, if we can reach an agreement for conviction on a lesser charge, that’s actually a win for us. Instead of letting our client go to jail for 25 years, we may be able to get the sentence reduced to one or two years. Then, he’s thrilled because that’s what we wanted from the start. We want a fair and just sentence in every case. Sadly, when dealing with some prosecutors, we can’t get that.

That kind of outcome is exactly what I consider my most important role. I try to balance the power the state and federal government bring to bear in prosecuting people. They may say to you, “You deserve to go to jail for 25 years.” I say, “Mr. Prosecutor, I agree that my client may have committed a crime, but maybe he was justified in what he did. Maybe this was an isolated incident, so rather than coming down with the full weight of the law and imposing the maximum under the law, perhaps justice would be better served by looking at the mitigating circumstances of this case. Consider all of his background and history, and you may agree that justice would be more in line with what I’m saying as opposed to what you now think it is.”

When it comes to punishment, the law provides a broad range. For instance, someone who is convicted of a felony may face a minimum sentence of probation or a more severe sentence up to a maximum jail term of 25 years. That’s a big disparity in terms of what justice really is. Part of the reason the law is so broad is that judges need to have room to exercise discretion because of the breadth of their experience. After all, they’re sitting as judges because their experience enables them to say, “You know, Mr. Prosecutor, 10 years is not appropriate in this case. You really should consider something less.”

When I talk to my friends, I say, “Yes, I may be representing someone who’s guilty, but there for the grace of God go all of us. We all make mistakes.” Who can say they’ve never gotten behind the wheel of a car after they’ve had a couple of drinks? Well, they were fortunate they didn’t get involved in an accident that night, or they were fortunate that they weren’t stopped by a police officer on their way home.

For me, as an attorney, it’s a real eye-opener to recall how many times I’ve gotten calls from friends of mine who’ve gotten arrested for either drunk driving or having an argument with their wives. They call me up and say, “You know, I can’t believe how I’m being treated here!” I say, “Really? You can’t believe how you’re being treated?” You’re an upper class white male. You’re being treated the best anyone can possibly be treated. If you don’t think that’s good treatment, you should see some of the clients I’ve represented, and hear about some of the treatment they’ve had.” It’s really an eye-opening experience for a lot of people.

I hope you never have to endure the humiliating experience of being arrested and processed through the system, whether or not you’ve done anything wrong. If you ever do, that’s when you’ll realize that you need someone beside you to zealously represent your interests – because the system can grind you down. It’s very important that you make sure you have someone fighting to protect your rights, whether or not you’ve done anything wrong.

Robert J. Aiello is a principal and founding member of the law firm and a trial attorney.  His practice is devoted primarily to criminal defense in State and Federal Courts. Mr. Aiello has been involved in many high-profile cases throughout his career. Contact us at our Maspeth, Queens office today to schedule a free and confidential consultation with experienced New York criminal defense attorney Robert Aiello.

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