Friday, 7 May 2021

BM CARROLL - Defending the Indefensible

Many years ago, when I was researching an earlier novel, I spoke to a criminal lawyer who was brilliant, dedicated and extremely tolerant of my na├»ve questions. The lawyer was also, at the time, representing a woman who had stabbed her estranged husband to death on a Sydney freeway during morning peak-hour traffic. It was a horrific crime, deeply shocking for witnesses, responding emergency services and the general public. I couldn’t help deviating from my research to ask the lawyer: Why on earth would you want to defend this case? And what defence can there possibly be? 

The lawyer’s answer was along these lines. Because what happened on the freeway is only one part of the story. And because everyone – no matter how awful the crime – is entitled to a thorough, high-quality defence. 

The danger of a good defence 

 Her response has been percolating in my mind for almost twenty years and every time a similarly shocking crime occurs, I think not only of the victim, but also the accused, and what caused them to commit such a terrible act … and also the defence team who step up to defend the indefensible. 

 In my latest novel, You Had It Coming, a barrister, who has made a name for himself defending sexual assault cases, is shot outside his home. William Newson is a beloved father, a considerate boss and a strong advocate for the rights of the accused. He is also responsible for the acquittal of defendants who are guilty of their crimes and enabling at least one repeat offender. His profession leads to irreconcilable differences with his wife, who divorces him because ‘all those girls can’t be lying, William’. His profession causes numerous threats on his personal safety by angry complainants and their distraught families. His profession ultimately costs him his life. 

 It’s true that every defendant, no matter how heinous the crime, is entitled to the presumption of innocence and a strong legal defence. Without these basic standards, our legal system would be neither just nor fair and innocent people could be wrongly accused and convicted of crimes they did not commit. 

 However, it is a mistake to believe that the verdict in a trial is always just and fair. A miscarriage of justice seems more likely in sexual assault cases, because most of the time only two people know what actually happened and their perceptions of reality can be very different. ‘Reasonable doubt’ can flourish and all too often there is simply not enough evidence to return a guilty verdict. But just because there is not enough evidence and the final verdict is NOT GUILTY, doesn’t necessarily mean that the crime did not occur. It can even be argued that the more diligent and aggressive the defence, the better chance that a rapist will walk free … and go on to reoffend. 

He said vs. She said 

 You Had It Coming explores the murky matters of consent, admissible evidence, reasonable doubt, the rights of the accused, victim blaming, and the appalling reality that some offenders are not convicted for their crimes. Our legal system is imperfect, lawyers on both sides are endeavouring to do their jobs to the highest standard, and what can really be done if it’s one person’s word against another’s? 

 She said: Everything done and said that night was funnelled down, down, down until it became one singular question: had consent been given? The one thing she knows for sure is that she did not consent. Therefore, it should have been black-and-white. 

 He said: It’s one thing convincing a judge and jury you’ve done nothing wrong, it’s another convincing yourself ... I was sorry and ashamed, but incredibly relieved when we were acquitted. I thought I could walk out of court, leave it all behind me, and finally start my life. But something like that doesn’t go away. It affected every relationship I had, every job I interviewed for. To be upfront or not. To tell the truth, or hope they’d never find out. 

 Back to the woman on the freeway, where the crown and the defence agreed that the defendant was suffering from schizophrenia when the attack occurred. The court was told she had delusional beliefs about her estranged husband, that he was poisoning her food and abusing their daughter. She pleaded not guilty due to mental illness and was acquitted of the charges. 

 The criminal lawyer had done her job superbly and, in this case at least, there was a legitimate defence despite the damning circumstances.

  • Publisher : Viper; Main edition (13 May 2021)

B.M. Carroll (also known as Ber Carroll) was born in Blarney, a small village in Ireland. The third child of six, reading was her favourite pastime (and still is!). Ber moved to Sydney in 1995 and spent her early career working in finance. Her work colleagues were speechless when she revealed that she had written a novel that was soon to be published. Ber now writes full-time and is the author of ten novels. Over the last few years, Ber's writing has become darker and more suspenseful (probably reflecting her state of mind). Her most recent novels The Missing Pieces of Sophie McCarthy, Who We Were, and You Had It Coming are published under B.M. Carroll.

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