I am an attorney practicing in Grand Forks, and more than half of my caseload is criminal defense work. I cut my legal teeth in the area of criminal defense, working for many years for a solo-practice criminal defense attorney.
Then, as my first clerkship position in law school, I had the privilege of working for another solo-practice criminal defense attorney. I learned so much from both of these attorneys/mentors; but the most important thing they taught me is that we, as Americans, are singularly blessed that everyone — no matter what crime they are charged with — have the constitutional right to counsel.
Also, because of the Constitution, Americans are innocent until proven guilty.
As attorneys, we are sworn to represent our clients zealously, and it is a privilege to be able to assure that our clients’ constitutional rights are upheld and protected.
Imagine my surprise, and ultimate dismay, when I discovered that one of the clients who retained the attorney I was clerking for was not going to have the protection of the Constitution throughout his ongoing legal issues.
This client had been falsely accused of a terrible offense. His education, career and exemplary character and reputation were on the line because of this. He and his family hired the attorney I clerked for because they needed the protection and advocacy that an attorney could provide.
But when the time grew near for our client to have his mandatory disciplinary hearing at the public university he attended, we were told that he could have NO representation at this hearing. Not an attorney, not me as a non-attorney advocate, not a family member, friend, clergyman and so on. No one.
He was expected to go in alone and face the music. However, the alleged “victim” was allowed to have any number of advocates.
When we inquired about our client’s constitutional rights, we were told, “We don’t need to follow the Constitution here, only our own policies.” I was unaware that public institutions of higher education could follow or not follow the Constitution, seemingly at whim.
If readers think we were disillusioned, I invite them to imagine how our client and his family felt when we had to tell them that our hands were tied, and he’d have to go it alone.
Our client was dismissed from the university he attended, and his life was summarily torpedoed. Later, his accuser was charged with filing a false police report, and our client was never charged criminally.
But the damage that had been done to our client was irreparable and cut deep.
Think about it, readers. Put yourself in the position of facing what amounts to a “kangaroo court” with no one to help you, no one to advocate for you and without the protection of the U.S. Constitution.
Due process should not be optional. I urge legislators to support SB2150 and the U.S. Constitution, which should be a protective blanket for all.