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Editorial: Defense makes courtroom work

| Saturday, Jan. 12, 2019, 3:33 p.m.
Robert Bowers, accused of killing 11 people inside the Tree of Life Congregation in Squirrel Hill, appeared in a wheelchair Monday, Oct. 29, 2018, at his first court hearing at the federal courthouse in Pittsburgh's Downtown .
Dave Klug for the Tribune-Review
Robert Bowers, accused of killing 11 people inside the Tree of Life Congregation in Squirrel Hill, appeared in a wheelchair Monday, Oct. 29, 2018, at his first court hearing at the federal courthouse in Pittsburgh's Downtown .

Everyone deserves a defense.

Scratch that.

It isn’t that everyone deserves a defense. Let’s face it — if some people did the crimes they were accused of doing, there really is no “deserving” involved.

But everyone is entitled to a defense.

The American system of jurisprudence is built on a foundation that is different from so many other countries. We don’t arrest you, confident in your guilt and march you through the motions of a trial that are simply the spaces on a game board that get you to your jail cell or a needle in your arm. At least, everything is arranged to try to prevent that.

No, in American courtrooms, you are innocent until proven guilty. Even when you are holding a literal smoking gun. Even when that is hard, if not impossible, to ignore.

And that is why you are guaranteed a defense. No matter the crime, no matter the circumstance, a defendant in an American criminal court will have the chance to go into trial with a lawyer at his side.

Often it is a public defender. If you can afford to pay for an attorney, you can pick who represents you. Even if you choose to represent yourself, the judge probably will assign a lawyer to advise you on rules and procedure.

Robert Bowers, the man charged with the October murders of 11 Tree of Life synagogue worshippers, gets a defense. He is entitled to one.

His attorney, Judy Clarke, is not a stranger to defending what seems indefensible. She has been there before. She has stood beside the Unabomber, the Boston Marathon Bomber, the man who opened fire at an Arizona event and shot a Congresswoman. She stood beside an architect of the 9/11 attacks.

Maybe none of them deserved a defense. All of them, after all, were found guilty. But heading into a courtroom, that doesn’t matter.

There was a time when each of them was a suspect, not a convict. There was a time each of them was, like Bowers, merely accused of a crime.

And in an American courtroom, that means innocence. It means an opportunity to tell your side of the story. It means that you have someone beside you to help you make your case.

An attorney like Clarke is an example of the best things about our legal system, because nothing about it works without a worthy advocate on both sides.

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