Sometimes criminal defense lawyers are asked to represent clients they don't believe in. While you can't always pick and choose your clients, you can sometimes turn down representation. It's not always easy, though.
Take a recent Second Circuit Court of Appeals case. A defense attorney representing a client in a child sex abuse case decided to withdraw right before the trial.
The case, U.S. v Linda O'Connor and Dean Sacco, shows the reality of criminal defense and particularly, how emotionally conflicting it can sometimes be for a criminal defense attorney to represent a client in cases that may seem reprehensible, such as child abuse cases or in this case, a child sex-abuse case.
The lower court held that the attorney should be kept on the case, reports Reuters. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the decision of the lower court. According to Reuters, the defense attorney Kelly Fischer had asked to be removed four days prior to the trial, saying that his "moral and technical perspective on the case had shifted."
The reason for Fischer's change of heart? A piece of evidence, consisting of a used condom with the DNA evidence of an underage girl. The defense attorney was quoted as saying that he could go through the motions of defending his client but that the attorney's conviction would not be behind the representation.
His client, Dean Sacco, received a life sentence after being convicted on all counts in the child pornography case. Sacco was found guilty of charges, including buying a child for the purposes of producing child pornography, sex trafficking of a child and sexual conduct with a minor.
But that's not the most disturbing part of the case.
The child's own mother was tried alongside Sacco. And she was also convicted.
The mother, Linda O'Connor, offered her child to her landlord, Dean Sacco, for sex, in lieu of paying rent. The daughter was twelve years old at the time. O'Connor pocketed the cash and watched (and took photos) as her daughter had sex with man after man, threatening her daughter with homelessness if she didn't comply.
It gets even worse. O'Connor actually joined in the act, at times.
Can you blame Kelly Fischer for not wanting to defend Dean Sacco? But the court's didn't really care for Fischer's moral convictions in this case, citing that he had presented inadequate reasons for withdrawing.
Said District Court Judge Thomas J. McAvoy: "I don't think the law requires zealousness on [the] part of the attorney. I think it requires adequacy on [the] part of the attorney. I know Mr. Fischer is more than adequate."
- United States v. O'Connor (FindLaw Cases)
- NY woman to be sentenced for child sex trafficking (WRGB News)
- Criminal Law Research Center (FindLaw)