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Fordham Law School




This Essay will argue that the public defender, or any other attorney appointed by the court to defend adults or juveniles charged with criminal offenses, should not undertake, or fail to undertake, any action to the legal detriment of a client on the basis of a conflict the attorney perceives between religious and professional imperatives, except in the rare case of imminent death or serious bodily harm to another. This argument rests on the following four premises: (1) the public defender occupies a unique position in our legal system, and options that may be available to lawyers who serve private interests or other clients cannot and should not be available to him; (2) any deviation by a public defender from the governing professional constraints (and exhortations) in representing a client that stems from conflicting religious beliefs and harms the client would be both professionally unethical and immoral; (3) religion is at best equivocal in addressing questions of the propriety of specific actions taken or urged on behalf of clients; and (4) the appropriate role of religion in the work of a public defender is that of individual inspiration, or motivation to work to change the professional code or the criminal justice system itself. Each of these premises will be discussed in turn.



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