It’s often said to be every criminal defense lawyer’s worst nightmare.
You break your butt building a case designed to produce just enough “reasonable doubt” in the minds of twelve jurors to win an acquittal for you r client (or to keep your client from being executed). At a minimum, you try to plant a sufficient amount of “reasonable doubt” in the mind of at least one juror in order hang the jury, which will force the government to start from scratch with a new trial. (A verdict of guilty or not guilty must be unanimous.)
Then your client insists on testifying. You explain to your client why that is very, very bad idea, but he insists, and proceeds to hang himself with his own words.
That’s what appears to have happened today in the trial of Zacarias Moussaoui.
Ignoring the advice of his attorneys, Mr. Moussaoui took the witness stand and proceeded to admit that he was aware of an impending attack on the World Trade Center, that he was happy about learning of the 9/11 attacks, and that he (along with Richard Reid – the Shoe-Bomber) was slated to fly a plane into the White House in a subsequent attack.
Of course, instead of it being a nightmare, Moussaui’s testimony may have been a moment of deliverance for Moussaoui’s lawyers, particularly if they had been appointed by the court to defend Moussaoui (I frankly don’t know whether they were appointed or were paid for).
This is so, because a lawyer’s sworn obligation is to zealously represent his or her client within the bounds of the law, even if the lawyer knows that his client is a despicable, murdering swine.
If after you’ve done your best to zealously advocate your client’s position within the bounds of the law, your client insists on hanging himself, you can sleep well at night knowing that you discharged your sworn duty, but at the same time justice was done.
After all, how well might you sleep knowing that your “win” put a guy like Moussaoui back on the street?