Three Criminal Lawyers In American History Law Students Should Know

Posted on: 11 December 2014

Students who want to become criminal defense attorneys may need inspiration.

Learning the stories of men and women who made significant contributions to American law can prove motivational. Here are three top criminal defense attorneys in American history.

1. John Adams

John Adams, a lawyer who became the second President of the United States, set a trend of lawyers as the Chief Executive.

Adams had a reputation for his objective defense of clients. For this reason, people chose him to represent the British soldiers charged with the murder of Bostonians during the so-called Massacre of 1770.

The troop commander went free after the jury cleared him of ordering the deaths of British citizens. Of the eight soldiers charged with murder, all but two received "not guilty" verdicts. Adams convinced the court to reduce the charges of the two guilty men to manslaughter, resulting in their release, as well.

Despite the fervor toward conviction, Adams coolly handled the case and won a verdict that people came to respect. He raised doubts as to who had shouted, "Fire," causing the soldiers to unload their muskets into the crowd. Though the masses wanted convictions, Adams demonstrated that anyone in the area could have shouted the words. The judge agreed, using the words "reasonable doubt" for the first instance in American legal history.

Students planning to enter criminal law must know that their clients may not always be the most popular. The public may want a conviction. Yet, it is the duty of the criminal defense attorney to ensure that justice prevails.

2. Johnnie Cochran

Most known for his successful defense of celebrity athlete O.J. Simpson in 1992, Cochran actually had a long career in Los Angeles prior to that trial. He won fame in the nation's second largest city for winning the case that stopped the police department (L.A.P.D.) from using the "chokehold" that had led to the deaths of multiple citizens over decades.

Cochran's career demonstrates the body of work that each defense attorney should strive to achieve. Success is not the result of one case but the culmination of many years of hard work.

3. Clarence Darrow

Clarence Darrow was a staunch defender of American civil liberties, always ready to take on a fight. He began his career in labor and corporate law. Similar to Cochran, Darrow established his credentials through many successful cases. He worked over 100 murder cases In Chicago alone, winning all but one.

His 1925 defense of Tennessee science teacher John Scopes is the subject of legend. Scopes, arrested for teaching evolution, lost in court, but it was the performance of Darrow that won the day. Battling William Jennings Bryan, the defender of an old perspective on science, Darrow demonstrated through pointed questioning that modern views of the universe had validity that required respect.

Law students who want to ensure that the criminal justice system has room for various interpretations and perspectives will want to emulate Darrow.

The Value of Learning the History of American Criminal Law

American legal history is an important area of study for any prospective criminal defense attorney. There are many examples of courageous men and women who stood before the courts to ensure that justice, not popular passions, ruled the day.

After learning about the lives and professional careers of famous lawyers of the past, students who want to join the criminal bar should contact a practicing attorney such as Craig H. Lane, PC for further information on the specialty.



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