Injustice Anywhere Is a Threat to Justice Everywhere'
The Miranda warning begins "You have the right to remain silent," echoing the Fifth Amendment. A beautiful, simple, fundamental right that more of us should exercise, not just criminal defendants. The next two parts of Miranda concern legal representation, enshrining the basic principles of our system of justice, laid out by the U.S. Supreme Court in Gideon v. Wainwright three years before Miranda v. Arizona: "You have the right to an attorney"; and, "If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you."
The rights of an accused are at the heart of our system of justice, which works only if there is a single-minded advocacy for each party on each side of a case. Thus all people, even those accused of a crime—especially those accused of a crime—are entitled to the same zealous representation by counsel, regardless of their seeming guilt or innocence, their ability to pay or their status in society. But this idea did not start with Miranda. It is a fundamental principle that is older than our democracy.
As a young lawyer, John Adams represented British soldiers charged with murder after they fired into a crowd during what became known as the Boston Massacre. He undertook the soldiers' defense despite the expected public vilification he endured. Adams was an ambitious man, and he knew that defending the British soldiers might compromise his political career. But he took the case because he was a lawyer first, and he knew a vigorous advocacy for the defendants was more important than one man's ambitions. As Adams contemplated the upcoming trial and the attacks on his character, he quoted in his diary the Italian philosopher Cesare Beccaria: "'If, by supporting the rights of mankind and of invincible truth I shall contribute to save from the agonies of death one unfortunate victim of tyranny or of ignorance … [it] will be a sufficient consolation to me for the contempt of all mankind.'"
In 1957, at the height of the Cold War, James B. Donovan was urged by the Brooklyn Bar Association to defend the captured spy Rudolf Abel, chief of Soviet espionage in the United States. Last year, the movie Bridge of Spies dramatized Donovan's role as Abel's defense attorney, but mostly centered on the prisoner exchange he orchestrated. Less well-covered in the film was Donovan's defense of Abel and the principles behind it. Donovan, an insurance attorney, was pressed into service for the defense because he was familiar with the machinations of spies and war crimes trials, having worked in the Office of Strategic Services and as a prosecutor in the Nuremberg trials.
Predictably, Donovan endured hate mail and angry telephone calls, and newspaper headlines criticizing him for defending a Russian spy. Although Donovan had no hope of winning—Abel had admitted to espionage—he firmly believed that any suspect detained and tried on U.S. soil must be afforded all the rights available under the Constitution. And since the trial was going to play out on a world stage, he wanted to make clear the distinction between American and Soviet-style justice. Among the letters Donovan received, many colleagues noted that "defense of an unpopular cause is one of the things that make our profession a calling."
Adams and Donovan are exemplars of taking a principled stance in situations where the stakes go beyond the fate of the individuals on trial. These same issues play out on smaller stages every day, when people are detained as suspects in crimes and the public demands justice for the victims. And if a crime appears particularly brutal, public clamoring for a swift resolution can result in trial by media. But that is not the American way; in our system of justice, every defendant is presumed innocent and entitled to a fair and public trial. As that great leader Martin Luther King Jr., said, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."