As a criminal defense attorney, we are constantly confronted with the inevitable tension that arises between the legitimate governmental interest of conducting lawful criminal investigations and the right to privacy that each individual is constitutionally promised. Contrary to popular belief, not all criminal defense attorneys are zealous anti-government “freedom fighters” out to stop “the man” at all costs.
To the contrary, my colleagues and I are often the first to recognize the importance of law and order as well as the role government must play in this operation. Few individuals grasp society’s woes as defenders of those facing punishment. Through police reports, discovery, and simply spending time with our clients, defense attorneys understand the complexities and complications of passing judgment on a human being.
No one can deny that there is strong societal interest in preventing and punishing criminal acts. The difficulty comes when one attempts to define what a “criminal act” entails. The situation becomes even more complex when one seeks to define and implement punishment. Many would like to convert this topic into a black and white question, wrong vs. right. Unfortunately, crime and punishment is not that simple.
With that being said, there is still an important governmental responsibility to prevent and deal with crime. However, one must be careful when turning over the reigns to those in a position of making such decisions. Our personal freedoms must not be completely lost in trying to prevent or punish crime. It is essential to remember that the several inalienable rights set forth by our forefathers, and developed into ideas such as “a reasonable expectation of privacy,” are still relevant.
It is a balancing act in which everyone involved must give a little to gain a lot. Those that police our borders and protect our streets must never become so fixated on preventing or stopping crime that they compromise the very civil liberties they fight to protect. When the criminal justice system loses sight of whom it serves, regardless of the intent behind this action, freedom is compromised for all. On the flip side of the same coin, those that represent personal freedoms must never forget the important and necessary function these entities serve.
At the end of the day, both sides must give a little. The government must refrain from growing too big and powerful and, as a result, some crimes might go unpunished. On the other hand, those fighting for liberty and freedom must understand that some liberties will be infringed upon. This is an inevitable aspect of living in a communal group. It is a balancing act, and one that we must work diligently to continuously maintain.