This letter is submitted not only in defense of Vincent Sheheen, against whom a scurrilous political attack ad has been launched, but also in defense of the attorneys of this state and our country's legal system as a whole.
If being accused of a crime established guilt, would we be the land of the free?
The Sixth Amendment to the U. S. Constitution provides that anyone accused of a crime is guaranteed the right to competent legal counsel. Under our legal system, everyone is presumed to be innocent of all charges, regardless of how heinous they may be, unless and until proven guilty by a court of law.
Solicitors have a duty to present a case to the judge and/or jury with proof beyond a reasonable doubt as to the defendant's guilt. Criminal defense attorneys must do everything they can to ensure that their clients receive fair and impartial trials and force the state to meet its burden of proof.
If everyone does his job, it is then up to the judge or jury to determine whether the accused is innocent or guilty, and what an appropriate punishment might be.
Neither the solicitor nor the criminal defense attorney is guilty of anything except performing the professional duties with which he has been charged. If the solicitor cannot prove his case beyond a reasonable doubt, the accused goes free.
If the evidence is overwhelming, the accused is found guilty and sentenced.
Neither verdict implies that either of the attorneys has not performed his or her duties as well as possible, or that one or the other has acted unethically.
A recent attack ad against gubernatorial candidate and lawyer Vincent Sheheen suggests that serving as a defense attorney in our criminal justice system, essential to our free society, makes him "unfit to serve as governor."
The ad is irresponsible, repugnant to the core principles of our government, and offensive to members of a profession whose duty it is to serve others' interests above their own.
Moreover, the suggestion that a lawyer representing a client knows the client committed the crimes alleged, misrepresents reality, and paints the whole criminal justice system as an unnecessary charade, is also incredibly offensive.
Of course, the intent of the ad is to seek political gain by criticizing lawyers. The fact that this group of politicians, many of whom are attorneys themselves, has seen fit to fund such a despicable advertisement is unfortunate. The Charleston County Bar serves our community in many ways.
For example, the Charleston County Bar has a Community Outreach Committee, whose purpose is to educate the public on legal issues affecting consumers every day.
The seminars are scheduled through the Charleston County Public Library's main branch on Calhoun Street. They are free of charge, and the public is welcome to attend.
The next time you see an ad seeking to influence your vote by demeaning a candidate's character because he defended clients as a lawyer, please take a minute to consider whether you are getting a fair representation of the facts.
Upon review of the recent attack ad, we submit to you that it should raise a question about those who presented the disingenuous attack, rather than the subject of it.
And the next time someone tells a lawyer joke, stop to think about what lawyers do to help people every day, and what this country would be like without our legal system.
Natalie Parker Bluestein
James D. Myrick
Brian C. Duffy
Charleston County Bar Association