Jewish World Review July 29, 2002 / 20 Menachem-Av, 5762
The parents of 5-year-old Samantha Runnion must be wondering about the defense the man accused of killing their little daughter got when he was tried on child molestation charges two years ago. Alejandro Avila was acquitted, as the jury did not believe two 9-year-old girls that testified Avila grossly misused their bodies.
Avila's lawyer, John Pozza, pounded away at the testimony of the young girls. He did what defense lawyers usually do -- he created reasonable doubt among some in the jury. He told them that Avila's ex-girlfriend encouraged the girls to make up the charges. And the jury bought it. Avila walked.
But now we know that one of those 9-year-old girls lived in the same apartment complex as Samantha. And according to the prosecution in the molestation case, Alejandro Avila made one major mistake during the investigation. He volunteered to take a lie detector test -- and he failed miserably.
Of course, polygraphs are inadmissible in court. But, according to prosecutors, John Pozza was well aware that Avila had failed the polygraph. And Pozza battered the girls' testimony anyway.
So my question is this: Does Pozza bear any responsibility for Samantha Runnion's death? It is a brutal question that makes many attorneys very angry. But it is a vitally important question in this time of escalating violence against children.
Article Six of the Constitution lays out the rights every American accused of a crime is entitled to, and one of those rights is "the assistance of counsel for his defense."
So what does "assistance" mean? Does it mean deception? Does it mean fabricating scenarios defense attorneys know to be false? Does it mean playing the race card, as we saw in the Simpson trial?
My belief is that a fair trial does not include deception, fabrication or racial tactics. My belief is that if an attorney knows for certain that his or her client is guilty, then that attorney must advise the client to enter a guilty plea.
It is flat-out immoral for a lawyer to attempt to deceive a jury when he or she knows the client did it.
A good defense attorney never asks an accused criminal about guilt. And that is fine with me. If there is uncertainty in a criminal case, the defendant deserves to have the best, most intense defense possible.
But again, once the lawyer knows the client is guilty, then any attempt to deny that fact to the jury is deception.
Many lawyers will tell you that they are mandated to defend people accused of heinous crimes. That is simply untrue. Rule 1.16 of the American Bar Association states that a lawyer has the right to withdraw from any case "when the client insists on taking action the lawyer finds repugnant."
If an accused criminal committed the crime but is hellbent on trying to deceive the jury, that is repugnant to any law-abiding person, including attorneys. Once in a while a judge will order a lawyer to remain on a case, but this is rare, as it almost insures an appeal. And if an attorney tries to withdraw from a case, the record will show his dissent and his disgust with the client.
But lawyers that try to free criminals they know to be guilty are accessories. I would like to ask Avila's lawyer a few questions: How do you feel now that your former client is accused of murdering a 5-year-old? Are you willing to defend him again? Would you like to sit down and explain yourself to Samantha's parents?
Accused criminals have a right to a lawyer's "assistance." But that assistance must be honest. Trying to free a child molester that fails a lie detector test would cause many people huge pangs of conscience. Justice is based on the guilty being punished and the innocent going free, not who can beat down the testimony of children and allow monsters to walk free.
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07/22/02: Suffer the children