Criminal Defense Ethics: The Opposite of What Would Jesus Do?

Western Justice has a post up titled “How to Pass the MPRE: WWJD ≠ WWLD”. Right off the bat, the title of the post is amusing.

For the non lawyers, the MPRE is the lawyer ethics portion of the overall Bar Exam that must be passed before you can be licensed to practice. WJ is claiming that to pass the ethics exam, first figure out what “What Would Jesus Do?” – and then mark the opposite answer to pass your legal ethics test.

It’s a lawyer joke. And actually, if it were left alone, or perhaps well supported, it might still be funny. But then WJ tries to back up the joke. (N.B. Jokes are never funnier when they have to be explained.)

So our anonymous prosecutor gives us an example:

Johnny confesses a crime to you. The elders of the community wish to know who has committed this horrible sin. Johnny wishes to keep his sins secret from the community, and confess to nobody. The elders, however, wish to get to the bottom of the matter and find out who is guilty of this heinous sin. What do you tell the elders regarding Johnny's confession?

Let us start with the first part of the equation: WWJD. Well, I cannot speak for all Christians and followers of Jesus' teachings, philosophy, and religion, but I can safely assume that in that situation, Jesus would convince Johnny to confess to the elders. Now, let us finish the equation: ≠ WWLD. The opposite of that is to not tell the elders and the people of the community that Johnny has committed the unpardonable sin. Furthermore, you, as his lawyer, should convince Johnny not to say anything about his sin--not to you, not to the police, not to anybody.

Now I’m not holding myself out as a biblical scholar, but I know enough about Christianity to know this is hogwash. It just feels like faulty analysis. Jesus hung out with prostitutes, lepers, adulterers, thieves, tax collectors – in other words: sinners and outcasts. If the War on Drugs had started 2000 years ago, he would have been in the alleyways with the drug addicts. And I certainly don’t recall any passages about him being a Narc of any sort – no matter what crimes (sins?) you were committing.

So I called my resident Bible expert/fellow attorney Steve – he who helps build and maintain his Church by day, and supports himself by moonlighting for sleeping lawyers and doing their jail releases at night – and I ask him: Does the bible say anything about priest-penitent privilege? Sounds like a Roman Catholic concept, but is there some quote from Jesus, some Bible passage that I can use to counteract this seemingly counterintuitive example?

Never one to disappoint, Steve tells me he has referenced Jesus as the “first criminal defense lawyer” in sermons. He quotes the First Epistle of John Chapter Two Verses 1-2:

My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous:

And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for [the sins of] the whole world.

Of course. This is the basis of Christianity itself. Sinners (i.e. all of us) have an advocate with the Father. Confessing your sins to Jesus and repenting through him – not the Pharisees – that’s the path to eternal salvation. 

Jesus is the ultimate defense attorney.

WJ, your ‘safe assumption’ has no basis in scripture.

Coming Soon (to a criminal defense blog near you): Jesus, the adulterer, the accusers, and casting the first stone.

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Waco Criminal Law Blog - April 15, 2008 9:01 AM
A recent post by Austin criminal defense lawyer Jamie Spencer suggested that Jesus was the ultimate defense lawyer. I'm guessing there are a lot of people who disagree with that idea, and probably would get really worked up if someone...
Comments (3) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
Jamie - April 10, 2008 12:24 AM

Points of Order

I phoned Steve* and read him the post before pubishing. I’m really not the Biblical expert. He made a few suggestions. Here are the ones I didn’t take him up on:

#1) Omit Lepers. Leprosy is not a moral failing or sin, it’s a disease**.

OK. Point taken, but “lepers” falls under the general category of outcasts or undesirables, and I like using the word leper. After all, how often will I get a chance to use it again?

#2) Explain that Tax Collectors were generally considered to be thieves, skimming off the top from what was due to Caesar. I could, but heck, if any Republicans read this blog, they’ll just file that under outcasts anyway.

*I would link to him as the “Austin Jail Release lawyer” but he doesn’t have a blog or website – GASP.

**But See: Alcoholism. Again, I digress – that’s why I didn’t put this part in the main post to begin with…

victoria - April 11, 2008 5:52 PM

Amen Brother.

From a capital defense lawyer.

Colorado Criminal Defense Attorney - December 8, 2010 10:04 AM

elkusandsisson here from CO. Your blog is one of the best! Thanks for such wonderful post. I have subscribed to your post. Thanks again
Colorado Criminal Defense Attorney

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