Confession Good For The Soul? Perhaps. But It Is Hell In A Courtroom


The following is an excerpt from Clarence Darrow in Hell, a play written by Kenan Heise and Dan Heise. In this scene, Darrow is accompanied by none other than Dante. Darrow has refused to confess his sins at the gates of Hell. He disputes now with Charon the need for such a confession. Indeed, he is rallying souls afloat in Acheron, awaiting transport to Hell, to revolt.

"In the American courtroom, the man who is eager to be condemned is told to sit down and is advised of his rights. Through both the police and his lawyers he learns that he must let the system grind in his defense. His eagerness for self-recrimination and self-blame is not taken into consideration by the court. His confession is considered only part of the evidence. I urge you souls who feel so guilty, endure your sense of guilt and recrimination. Demand that you have your full day in court. Stifle yourselves. You have given up hope by entering the gates of hell, but do not sacrifice yourselves out of guilt or remorse."

Wise words. But is Darrow counseling against plea bargaining here?

Of course not. Darrow understood the case and consequences belong to the client. He plead the McNamara brothers guilty in the bombing the of Los Angeles Times building when it became apparaent that the case against them was overwhelming. And in the Leopold and Loeb murder case, a quick guilty plea set the stage for a sentencing phase that changed perceptions about the role of mental disease and defect in our law. There are times when a client's interest and sound tactics result in a plea.

But Darrow here stands at the gates of Hell. He sees folks with cases that cannot be won. Like Satan in Paradise Lost, Darrow knows his case cannot be won. But he knows more. He knows that regardless of the plea, the fate is damnation. Better to defy in such case. Abandon hope all ye who enter? Perhaps. But do not yield in such a case without a fight. Otherwise, the only thing left, integrity, is lost.

Whether there is a lesson for lawyers in this play is up to the lawyers who read it. There are lawyers who refuse as a matter of principle to enter plea negotiations, or so they say. Such lawyers remind me of surgeons who refuse to wash their hands, objecting to the smell of soap. Woe to the patients of such doctors, and to the clients of such lawyers.

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© Norm Pattis is represented by Elite Lawyer Management, managing agents for Exceptional American Lawyers
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