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From Corporate To Private Practice In Criminal Defense

July 12, 2013 01:49pm  

Russellville, AR—Debra Reece says she's wanted to be an attorney ever since she was a four year old girl watching Perry Mason.  After working in private practice, she switched to corporate law for a brief time, then realized it wasn't for her.

“While I worked there, I got a call from someone who didn't know I wasn't in private practice anymore,” Reece told in a recent interview.  “I knew I couldn't represent him, even pro bono, because I wasn't in private practice any more and was committed to the company.  I drove to the other side of the state to listen to his story and let him down gently.” 

That wasn't how it worked out.  Instead, as Reece listened to the man's story, she became increasingly convinced that he had not committed the crime he was accused of—raping his stepdaughter.  “I would not back down and allow an innocent man to be imprisoned,” she says.  “I made the very difficult decision to leave my cushy job in corporate law because of this case.”

Eventually, charges were dropped against Reece's client.  “In our country, we have a concept of innocence until proven guilty, but the truth is, that is a legal fiction,” Reece told in a recent interview.  “Of all the clients I have represented, 50 percent of them are not guilty of what they are charged with.  Of the remaining 50 percent, the vast majority are overcharged.  Only 10 to 15 percent of my clients are actually guilty.” 

In spite of this, Reece says that most people don't believe in the innocence of anyone who has been charged with a crime.  “Everyone from the general public to the legislature strongly believes that the police will not arrest anyone if they are innocent.  The government will fully support police departments and prosecutors through funding, but don't do the same on the defense side,” she says. 

When this happens in the courtroom, it leads to a situation where the defense finds itself facing an uphill battle—even when the facts are in the defense's favor.  “The jury walks into the courtroom with a law and order mentality, and they assume the prosecutor wouldn't have charged a person if they weren't sure the defendant was guilty,” Reece explains.  “In other words, they think the prosecutors and police department do investigations like they do on television—but that's not reality.” 

What's more, Reece says, prosecutors who abuse their offices face no penalties.  “Recently, there have been accusations made against some prosecutors for prosecutorial misconduct.  This has led to the criminal defense bar being infuriated, because many of these prosecutors have prosecutorial immunity,” she says.  “As long as a prosecutor is acting under the scope of their office, they cannot be sued—they have unfettered power.  Obviously, we have more good prosecutors than bad, but those who are not can walk around with no consequences.” 

That's why, according to Reece, people should respect defense lawyers, rather than asking them how they can represent people accused with crimes: “A good criminal defense attorney is the best thing for everyone, because they make sure their client's rights are protected, hold the state to the burden of proof, and makes sure the jury listens to all the evidence presented.  It is good for the defendant and the public.”

To learn more about Debra Reece, click here


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