CJ Careers: Criminal Defense Attorney

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    • 00:04

      RUTH MOYER: Hi.My name is Ruth Moyer, and I'm a criminal defense attorneyin Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. [Ruth Moyer, Attorney/DefenseConsultant] I've been practicing law for six years.I received my JD, or Juris Doctorate,from Temple Law School.I work at a very small criminal defense firm.I write many, many trial motions and trial memorandums.

    • 00:25

      RUTH MOYER [continued]: I've also had the honor of serving as court appointedcounsel for defendants charged with misdemeanorswho are unable to afford their own counsel.I also have done a lot of work atthe appellate and collateral reviewstages of the litigation.And what those are is after a person has been convicted,

    • 00:45

      RUTH MOYER [continued]: either at trial or through a guilty plea,he has a right to challenge his convictionthrough what's called appellate review or collateral review.And once a person is convicted, however, it'svery difficult to have the conviction overturned.[Career Story]

    • 01:06

      RUTH MOYER [continued]: I received my bachelor's degree in history,and I attended Temple Law School.And while I was in law school, I took many public lawelective courses.For example, I took a course on federal courtsand jurisdiction.I took an elective course on post-trial reviewin criminal cases.

    • 01:28

      RUTH MOYER [continued]: And I also audited a course on the death penalty,which I found very interesting.I've worked at a criminal defensefirm-- it was very small-- and I've kind ofdeveloped a different perspectivebecause while I was in law school,I had interned in the US Attorney's Office.And that was more of a prosecutorial background,

    • 01:50

      RUTH MOYER [continued]: so now I've definitely gotten a sense of both sidesof the criminal justice system.[Challenges and Misconceptions]One of the greatest challenges for criminal defense attorneysis really, I think, two-fold.First is ensuring that an innocent person isn't

    • 02:11

      RUTH MOYER [continued]: convicted, and second is ensuring, to the extentpossible, that even where a person is guilty,the government doesn't obtain the convictionin some violation of a person's right.One very specific challenge I've encounteredis with defendants who have no prior criminal record.And I've encountered this a lot with my court-appointed

    • 02:34

      RUTH MOYER [continued]: misdemeanor clients.One conviction for an otherwise law-abiding person,with no criminal history, can havevery detrimental consequences on their life-- loss of employmentand a whole range of collateral consequences.One common misconception is a lot of people ask me,

    • 02:54

      RUTH MOYER [continued]: how can you, in good conscience, represent someonethat you know to be guilty?Well because I live and work in Philadelphia,I've often walked past Independence Halland that building has served as a reminderto me of what it is I'm trying to do.And what it is I'm trying to do is effectuatethe protections that our constitution,

    • 03:16

      RUTH MOYER [continued]: and more broadly, our modern criminal justice systemprovides.[Advice for Students]There are very many skills that I think a criminal defenseattorney should have.So that's something, for example, a student in collegeor in law school who would like to be a criminal defense

    • 03:36

      RUTH MOYER [continued]: attorney should consider.One skill I think is important is the ability to listen.And listening is important, whether it'sinterviewing clients, or interviewinga potential witness, or in court during cross-examination.Another very important skill that's related to listeningis the ability to ask the right questions.And the right question can be when

    • 03:56

      RUTH MOYER [continued]: you're researching a legal issue, or in a court room,asking a witness the right question.Another very important, of course, is oral advocacy.And good oral advocacy develops through lots and lotsof practice.And it's not something that most people are innately born with.It's something that if you work on it, you can be good at it.

    • 04:17

      RUTH MOYER [continued]: Another very important skill, I think,is the ability to really analyze law and to write well.And unfortunately, sometimes those skillsaren't emphasized as much as they should befor criminal defense attorneys.But so much of being an effective advocatefor one's client requires the ability

    • 04:37

      RUTH MOYER [continued]: to really analyze a statute or takefive different cases and the holding from eachof those cases make it into one coherent rule.Or to write a brief that's reallygoing to persuade a judge on a close legal issue.So I think all those skills are important.So how does one really develop those skills?

    • 04:58

      RUTH MOYER [continued]: Well, I think in college maybe takingcourses that require a lot of analysis or a lot of reading,I think-- or even a public speaking class.All those things can really help develop one's critical thinkingskills.[Diversity]There is so much diversity in so many different ways

    • 05:21

      RUTH MOYER [continued]: in a criminal justice system.We have a diversity of participants.We have judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys,probation officers.But the diversity really doesn't endwith one's occupational function within the system.There's also a whole range of diversity,in terms of people's backgrounds and people's perspectives

    • 05:42

      RUTH MOYER [continued]: and people life experiences.Diversity, I think, is a good thingbecause it maintains a balance among all the competinginterests in the criminal justice system.Now, in terms of specifically as to it's criminal defenseattorney, I think diversity is somethingthat an attorney always has to keep in mind.You'll have clients from all different walks of life,

    • 06:05

      RUTH MOYER [continued]: from all different backgrounds, all different educationallevels.And it's so important to treat all of themequally and respect their differences.And I think that's something that criminal defense attorneysreally need to do to be an effective advocatethat the client can trust.[Future Directions]

    • 06:29

      RUTH MOYER [continued]: It's really difficult to predict exactly whatthe criminal justice system will holdfor future generations of criminal justice professionals.Definitely, the criminal justice systemis human, in both its function and its purpose.And it's also human in its capacity for error.

    • 06:51

      RUTH MOYER [continued]: So while I think that perfection really isn't attainable,there's always room for positive growth.I hope, as a criminal defense attorney,to see that there are better ways in which wecan predict and prevent crime.Researchers are making amazing progresswith the statistical methods that they use to predict crime,

    • 07:14

      RUTH MOYER [continued]: as well as understanding the biological causes of crime.I think that maybe technological advances will somehowaid the fact finding process at the trial level.It'll aid juries make more accurate determinations.So even though it's very difficult

    • 07:35

      RUTH MOYER [continued]: to see exactly where the criminal justice system isgoing, I have to say that, in America at least,it's always moved towards the goals of accuracy, fairness,and justice.And I really don't see too much reasonwhy it wouldn't continue to do so.Definitely, however, criminal defense attorney are always

    • 07:56

      RUTH MOYER [continued]: are going to have to be aware of and adaptto changes within the criminal justice system.So even though I think that there'sgoing to be a whole new range of challenges for peoplein the criminal justice system, including the defenseattorneys, I'm confident that there are going to be new toolsand new knowledge that will help them

    • 08:18

      RUTH MOYER [continued]: effectively confront these challenges.[Technology]Technology has a very big impact on the criminal justice system.One example that comes to mind is DNA analysis.Three decades ago, it was a novel concept

    • 08:38

      RUTH MOYER [continued]: in criminal trials.And now, it's common, it's widely used,and it's actually become a very important means of exonerationfor decades-old cases.Technology has also created a whole new rangeof legal issues, like technologies such as GPStracking, or Facebook, or cell phones, or smartphones.

    • 09:03

      RUTH MOYER [continued]: Just last year, the Supreme Courthad to confront the constitutionalityat a warrantless search of a cell phone.So I definitely-- technology is a very, very important facetin the criminal justice system, including for criminal defenseattorneys.

CJ Careers: Criminal Defense Attorney

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Abstract

Ruth Moyer describes her career as a criminal defense attorney and what daily life looks like in her career. She also discusses misconceptions and future directions in her field.

CJ Careers: Criminal Defense Attorney

Ruth Moyer describes her career as a criminal defense attorney and what daily life looks like in her career. She also discusses misconceptions and future directions in her field.

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