It’s the question criminal defense lawyers get asked regularly, by friends, family members, strangers on the train, etc.

The Houston Chronicle – or should I say reporter Mary Flood? – asked Mark Bennett “The Question” in this morning’s paper:

Q: What do you tell folks who ask how you can defend people accused of crimes?

A: How could I not? It’s what I’m called to do.

People think if someone committed a crime and is not punished by the government, he got away with something. I can’t help but think there is order in the universe and the bad things you do come back to you one way or another.

There are a lot of answers to "The Question" as I call it, with a capital T and a capital Q: How can you do this?

If I don’t, nobody will. If I don’t defend people who did something bad, who will defend the accused who didn’t do something bad? We can’t decide. If everybody felt the same way, then people who didn’t do anything wrong could not be defended either.

It’s a huge question.

A lot of the punishments the government metes out are much more severe than I think they should be. The government likes to put people in a box — with probation or jail or a coffin.

Mark hits all the highlights of “The Perfect Answer”, with a capital T and a capital P and capital A.

  1. Karma’s gonna get you.
  2. Somebody has to do it. Has to. Think about it.
  3. To heck with guilty or not, fighting unjust punishment is a noble cause.

#3 might be my favorite. At least if we’re keeping this in that mythical cocktail party context where I’m being asked The Question. My goal in that situation is to turn the person around as quickly as possible. At least to get them to acknowledge #2.

It doesn’t take long before you get into the conversation and the person is shocked to find out that a person possessing a sweet and low packet’s worth of cocaine is subject to ten years confinement in the penitentiary, and all of a sudden they’re telling you, “Oh, well, no no no, I don’t agree with that…”

See? That’s what we do.