Monday, April 20, 2015

Article Summary - Defending the Guilty: Lawyer Ethics in the Movies

In the Article, Defending the Guilty: Lawyer Ethics in the Movies,[i] author J. Thomas Sullivan takes the reader on a journey through the legal and moral dilemmas faced by a criminal defense attorney when the guilt of his client is known, and the implications of such knowledge, using an interesting twist.[ii] The Article discusses these complicated and intense topics by using various motion pictures with relevant and relating topics within.  The Article first discusses a defense attorney’s obligation to his client and the preserved moral dilemma of representing a client whom is believed to be guilty.  [iii]  Sullivan uses the movie, To Kill a Mockingbird[iv] and the attorney in that film, Atticus Finch, to show that an attorney has a duty to zealously advocate for his client, despite a perceived notion that the client is guilty.[v]  The Article goes on to discuss the differences between moral guilt and legal guilt, and the difficult task for criminal defense attorneys to separate the two in their representation of clients.[vi]  Films like Path of Glory,[vii] Judgment at Nuremberg,[viii] Tom Horn,[ix] Primal Fear,[x] A Reasonable Man,[xi] and The Exorcism of Emily Rose,[xii] are used to demonstrate this conflict and provide relatable examples for readers.[xiii]
The article then moves to considering the previously discussed topics in light of a central pillar in our criminal justice system, that of a criminal defendant’s right to counsel.[xiv]  The Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution guarantees a criminal defendant the right to counsel,[xv]and this right was extended to felony cases in the landmark United States Supreme Court decision of Gideon v. Wainwright.[xvi]  In Defending the Guilty: Lawyer Ethics in the Movies, the importance of the right to be represented by counsel is illustrated by Sullivan’s examination of the film, The Ox-Bow Incident.[xvii]  While the outcome of the “trial” in The Ox-Bow Incident, was not up to the requirements of justice that we are now accustomed, the importance of our current standards was all the more exemplified by the injustice that the three main characters experienced.[xviii] 
After using several films to demonstrate a client’s expectation of effective assistance of counsel, the Article moves to debating the merits of a defense attorney’s knowledge of his client’s culpability.[xix]  The Article discusses both the pros and the cons of a lawyer knowing his client’s guilt, including the ability to argue his innocence, a client’s desire for his attorney to think he is innocence because he believes the attorney wont fight for him if the attorney knows he is guilty, and understanding realities when negotiating plea bargains with the prosecutor.[xx]  Using the film, Young Mr. Lincoln,[xxi]the Article demonstrates that when an attorney does not know the guilt of his client, he is in a better position to advocate for his client’s innocence and can be more creative with his arguments.[xxii]
Defending the Guilty: Lawyer Ethics in the Movies[xxiii] provides its readers with an interesting and original medium for discussing and viewing a cornerstone topic for lawyers – ethical behaviors.  The Article’s use of films to posit hypothetical situations and then provide insight into the moral and ethical dilemmas presented in the film’s plots is both refreshingly original and intellectually astute.  The analysis and thought on a wide array of ethical situations that lawyers are faced with in representing criminal defendants, “discussed through the lens of film,”[xxiv] was a fresh perspective on the frequently discussed, but incredibly important topic of legal ethics, specifically the moral dilemma of representing a “guilty” criminal defendant. 

- Cameron A. Beaver

[i] J. Thomas Sullivan, Defending the Guilty: Lawyer Ethics in the Movies, 79 Mo. L. Rev. 585 (2015).
[ii] Id.
[iii] Id. at 585-90.
[iv] To Kill a Mockingbird (Universal Int’l Pictures 1962).
[v] Sullivan, supra note 1, Introduction.
[vi] Sullivan, supra note 1, Part I.
[vii] Paths of Glory (United Artists 1957).
[viii] Judgment at Nuremberg (United Artists 1961).
[ix] Tom Horn (Warner Bros. 1980).
[x] Primal Fear (Paramount Pictures 1996).
[xi] A Reasonable Man (African Media Entertainment 1999).
[xii] The Exorcism of Emily Rose (Screen Gems 2005).
[xiii] Sullivan, supra note 1, Part. I.
[xiv] Sullivan, supra note 1, Part II.
[xv] U.S. Const. Amendment VI.
[xvi] 372 U.S. 335 (1963).
[xvii] The Ox-Bow Incident (Twentieth Century Fox 1943).
[xviii] Sullivan, supra note 1, Part II.
[xix] Sullivan, supra note 1, Part IV.
[xx] Id.
[xxi] Young Mr. Lincoln (Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp. 1939).
[xxii] Sullivan, supra note 1, at 629-31.
[xxiii] Sullivan, supra note 1.
[xxiv] Sullivan, supra note 1, at 590.