In 1975, Hillary Clinton was assigned to represent Thomas Alfred Taylor, who was accused of raping a 12-year-old girl. Although Taylor was charged with first degree rape, through her zealous defense, Clinton, his attorney, was able to get him the lesser charge of unlawful fondling of a minor under the age of 14. In the past few weeks the case has resurfaced following a Daily Beast exclusive interview with the victim.
A lot of people are making a big deal out of this when they shouldn’t be. There are legitimate criticisms of Hillary Clinton, just like there are of all politicians on both sides of the aisle. But, quite frankly, politicizing her former work as a criminal defense attorney is wrong. Sure, I’m biased because in addition to being a civil rights lawyer, I’m also a criminal defense attorney, but the fact of the matter is that at the time she defended Taylor, Clinton was just doing her job.
Now, she probably shouldn’t have laughed about it years later. Even I can admit that sometimes it’s best to keep a win to yourself. However, whether or not Mr. Taylor was a monster is wholly irrelevant. In Clinton’s own words, a criminal defense attorney has, “an ethical and legal obligation to defend [their clients] to the fullest extent of the law.”
More importantly, Clinton was appointed to represent the defendant (you don’t always get to choose your clients) and she held the People (the government) to their Constitutional burden to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt on the top charge. They couldn’t do it, and her client was only convicted of a lesser offense. It’s not the job of the defendant to prove they aren’t guilty, defendants are presumed innocent. It is the prosecutor’s job to prove guilt. If the victim is mad that Mr. Taylor was not convicted of the top charge, she should direct her anger toward the prosecutor, not toward Mr. Taylor’s defense attorney.
Many of you may feel for the victim and you are entitled to feel that way, but if you were ever being prosecuted for a crime, you too would want your lawyer to defend you zealously and force the prosecutor to prove their case like they are required to by law. You would also want your criminal defense attorney to raise evidentiary and credibility issues if they existed. That is exactly what Hillary Clinton did, and further, not raising those issues would have meant that she was falling short of her ethical and legal responsibilities to her client.
You have to have a very strong commitment to the Constitution to represent people you know are likely guilty, but these people – like all criminal defendants – have the right to an aggressive defense. I would think that everyone would want to be treated fairly by the criminal justice system and would want to be defended vigorously if they were ever accused and facing the possibility of losing their freedom. Criminal defense attorneys are supposed to give the best defense possible; our own opinions are largely moot and the presumption of innocence is our guiding principle.
In closing, if you want to criticize Hillary Clinton for her policies, her politics, or her performance as Secretary of State, go right ahead. But, if you believe in the presumption of innocence and the Constitution’s guarantees for the accused, criticizing her for doing her professional best for her client crosses the line.