I am Nicole Naum and a partner at Naum Estevez.
I am a criminal defense attorney.
I defend the Constitution of the United States.
I defend those who are accused of criminal acts.
I strive to protect the rights of ALL people.
Let it be known that being accused of criminal activity does not make that person a criminal.
I am saddened by the number of people on the internet putting down my colleagues and friends for offering pro bono representation for those arrested while PROTESTING. It is disturbing to read that people are claiming defense attorneys are part of the problem and that we are somehow condoning criminal activity. We are part of the solution. We do not encourage or support criminal enterprises. Furthermore, offering to work pro bono, providing free legal representation does not equate to condoning and assisting in criminal activity.
What my colleagues and friends in the criminal justice system know as they offer this service:
- People are unlawfully arrested.
- Innocent people are convicted and go to jail.
- Black men go to jail at a higher rate than white men.
- More black men go to jail for crimes they did not commit than any other demographic.
Everyone Deserves a Defense
It does not matter if they, in fact, committed the crime. Everyone has a right to be defended and have a jury or judge decide whether they are guilty and what punishment to impose. Also, who you have as an attorney does matter. Fantastic attorneys who choose to do pro bono work should be celebrated!
There are so many misconceptions in Facebook posts that, as a defense attorney, I would like to educate with the following facts:
- Protesting is a Constitutionally protected form of speech and is not criminal.
- People who are charged and arrested for a crime are NOT automatically criminals. They are presumed INNOCENT until given full due process of the law and provided a public trial.
- Being accused of a crime is one of the scariest events one can have in their life.
- No one should have to go to court alone nor without someone that they trust.
- Criminal defense attorneys have access to the court and the prosecution: a person without legal education and experience struggles in our system.
- We speak on behalf of our clients and give a voice to those who cannot speak for themselves.
Furthermore, the crux of the Black Lives Matter movement, and others, as I see it, is that when a white person sees a black person, they automatically think, “criminal.” (I believe this is the reason protestors are being deemed or labeled criminals when conducting lawful assembly). Criminal defense attorneys know this to be true. We know that if we have a black client, we are at a disadvantage in our system. The benefit of reasonable doubt is somehow reduced if the accused is black. We see it every day.
The Harsh Reality
By way of illustration, let’s examine the obstacles in defending a hypothetical case.
FACTS: There are drugs found in the trunk of the vehicle. There are 2 people in the car, a white man and a black man. Each man will have a separate jury trial with their own attorney. This is a predominantly white community.
If I am representing the white man, the defense would likely be:
- He didn’t have any knowledge of the drugs in the trunk, and
- It was the black man’s drugs.
This defense in front of a majority white jury (if not 100% white due to the community’s composition) would likely be well received and very likely successful. I would not have ever needed to discuss our mention that my client was white.
However, if I am representing the black man, in that same community, and took the same approach, we would be less successful. First, just because they can see my client is black, we must:
- Convince the jury that he is innocent until proven guilty,
- Just because he is black doesn’t mean that he is more likely to know about the drugs in the vehicle,
- Just because he is black doesn’t mean he has any drug knowledge at all,
- Just because he is black doesn’t mean the white man was less likely to know about the drugs,
- His word carries just as much weight as the white man’s without knowing anything else about his creditability, and THEN;
- It was the white man’s drugs.
And even then, his odds of success, even with the exact same facts as the white man, are less.
Now imagine my client is a black Hispanic man that does not speak English. It’s an uphill battle.
There are volumes of sample questions to ask a jury to try to find their racial biases and to minimize race in every type of criminal matter from drugs to murder. Criminal defense attorneys study them and spend hours per case strategizing the best way to take race out of the equation. I can think of only one example when the same questions must be addressed regarding a white man: a white supremacist type hate case. Other than that, the white client would not even be described as white; he just would be.
Men who are black are always black men, and it would be a disservice to my client not to address it. Race should never have to a brought up. However, if I turned a blind eye to exactly how bad the racial biases are, my client might get convicted on the color of his skin rather than the facts of the case.
This is the problem. This is why the Black Lives Matter movement is so important. We first need to educate and to expect acceptance that all humans are equal. Until this education is clearly imbedded in each and everyone’s mind, the conversation should not and cannot stop. Inequalities in our criminal justice system will not stop until our communities and citizens agree that all humans are equal.
Thank you to all my criminal defense attorney friends who educate and advocate every time you appear in the courthouse. We are part of the solution. We need to be strong and vigilant in our efforts of defending. I’m here with you.