- For Attorneys
- For the Public
For anyone who enjoys superheroes, I highly recommend Netflix’s recent Daredevil television show. Like all Netflix exclusive television shows, they recently made available all thirteen episodes of the first season. If you haven’t yet watched the show, but intend to, there may be some minor spoilers in this article.
If you are unfamiliar with the Daredevil character, the connection with the law is that Daredevil’s alter-ego is actually a lawyer. By day, Matt Murdock is a criminal defense attorney who protects the innocent. By night, Murdock assumes his secret identity as Daredevil, the knucklebusting vigilante who is also known as the “man without fear.” I must confess that as a lawyer, I often wonder where someone gets the energy to do both. The writers of the show have certainly done some research into the New York criminal system. There was a recent a reference to 180.80 day. In New York parlance, when an accused is incarcerated, a prosecutor must present a case to a grand jury within a fixed period of time. The 180.80 day is when the accused will be released if there has been no indictment. As the characters discussed the impact of these statutory requirements, it was clear to me that the writers had done some research into the nuances of the New York penal code.
However, research is no replacement for the practicalities of actual practice. In the Pilot, Murdock represents a character that the writers make clear is innocent of the alleged crimes. When the client is ultimately exonerated, Murdock says “Job’s easy when your client’s innocent . All you did is tell the truth.”
This quote didn’t ring true. We have all had clients we believed was getting the wrong end of a raw deal. On the other hand, we’ve all had clients who we probably thought were getting exactly what they deserved. Regardless of our personal feelings, an attorney’s job is to zealously advocate for his or her client. However, the job is anything but easy when the client is truly innocent. In thinking about this, there is a definite distinction between a client who is innocent and one who may merely be not guilty. The last thing any of us want is to see a client fail to receive justice because of a failure of our advocacy. Anything short of exoneration is a loss when the client is innocent. When the client is innocent, anything short of a win is a loss. Thus, the heavier burden is the one we carry when the client is truly innocent.
In Daredevil, the main character is confronted by the burden of protecting the innocent. The vigilante has free rein to act, but, free of the restrictions and protections of the justice system, must make sure that his self-help is limited to those who truly deserve it . On the other hand, the attorney must protect his clients from the injustice, while acting within the rules of the justice system. The character’s dichotomy is an interesting one, particularly when one considers the burden or moral imperative of representing someone he knows to be guilty (See Episode 3). I don’t want to give away too much, but the attorney and the vigilante don’t necessarily see eye to eye on this.
So far, Daredevil has been an excellent show with an interesting legal angle that explores some of the burdens that attorneys face. Of course, this is a piece of fiction and I certainly don’t suggest that it reflects reality. However, the writers use the comic book world to explore the questions of what is morally right as opposed to what may be legal. I highly recommend it, but be warned, that this is not necessarily a kid friendly superhero.