What is Zealous Defense?

What is Zealous Defense?

zealous defense

Have you ever followed a high-profile trial on the news and believed a defendant to be clearly guilty? You may have then, wondered if the defendant’s attorney knows that their client is guilty – and if so, why the attorney continues to defend them. There is a reason why lawyers fight on behalf of people who likely committed a crime. It happens to be the same reason for why lawyers fight on behalf of anyone. It is called zealous defense.

What is Zealous Defense?

Zealous defense, also known as zealous advocacy, is an ethical principle for practitioners of law. The essential idea is that once a client contracts the services of an attorney, the attorney must then do everything necessary to win the case, so long as it does not violate other ethical principles for the profession. They must do this regardless of their own feelings or views about their client – and regardless of whether or not they think their client is innocent.

As William K. Black notes in an article for Santa Clara University’s Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, this can mean that lawyers who “believe [their client] to be guilty of a heinous crime” should still do what they can to assist their client. This can mean “rais[ing] alternative theories that are not simply tenuous by deeply embarrassing to other innocent individuals.” If an attorney believes a guilty verdict is more than likely, they have a duty to fight for the lightest sentence possible.

Why Have Zealous Defense?

It may seem that only guilty criminals can benefit from this practice and that getting away with a crime is the only possible benefit. The truth is that everyone in the United States benefits from zealous defense because it requires that all lawyers treat their clients equally. An attorney cannot let any personal convictions, which can include personal prejudices, interfere with their work. They must commit and be tireless in their effort.

This ideal naturally springs from and contributes to the presumption of innocence, which is the bedrock of the United States justice system. Anyone who must stand trial expects to be seen as “innocent until proven guilty.” This rule exists not just for model citizens, but also for unpopular individuals whom even their own legal representation may not personally like. Even unpopular individuals are still citizens who need the same protections given to all citizens under American law.

Moreover, if someone is disliked by others, or is seen as having the personality that would make them likely to commit the crime for which he or she are accused, that does not necessarily mean they are guilty. This is why Benjamin Franklin wrote in 1785, “That it is better 100 guilty Persons should escape than that one innocent Person should suffer, is a Maxim that has been long and generally approv’d …”

The idea of guilty people “escaping” through this principle may sound disconcerting to some. However, what matters is that someday, you might be that innocent person, standing trial for a crime you genuinely did not commit and at serious risk of “suffering.” Would you not expect your attorney to zealously advocate for you, no matter how the situation may appear?


Naturally, the Broward County criminal defense attorneys at Michael A. Gottlieb, P.A. Broward Criminal Lawyers will zealously advocate for any and all clients. If you or a loved one are in need of legal representation, reach out to us today at (954) 462-1005 for a free consultation without obligations.

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