Why I Wrote Presumed Guilty
I wrote my book to raise awareness about the fact that innocent people can be and sometimes are prosecuted for federal crimes.
As a criminal defense lawyer, I've handled cases in which something unfair or wrong happened to a client accused of a crime. Often, justice ultimately prevails, but only after years of uncertainty. If you’re very lucky, you might be acquitted after a trial, or you might win an appeal if you were wrongfully convicted. Even in these scenarios, the harm to the person’s life is incalculable and irreparable. Worse yet, sometimes the system can fail regardless of whether you have ample resources and good lawyers, and you can go to prison. It can happen to anyone.
One reason for that is the awesome power of the federal prosecutor. The proper role of the federal prosecutor and the risks that the abuse of prosecutorial power pose to liberty were aptly described by Justice Robert H. Jackson in a 1940 address he gave while serving as Attorney General of the United States. He said: “The prosecutor has more control over life, liberty, and reputation than any other person in America. His discretion is tremendous….[H]e can choose his defendants. Therein is the most dangerous power of the prosecutor: that he will pick people that he thinks he should get, rather than pick cases that need to be prosecuted.”
At the same time, the best federal prosecutors are true guardians of justice. Jackson put it well when he said:
"The qualities of a good prosecutor are as elusive and as impossible to define as those which mark a gentleman. And those who need to be told would not understand it anyway. A sensitiveness to fair play and sportsmanship is perhaps the best protection against the abuse of power, and the citizen's safety lies in the prosecutor who tempers zeal with human kindness, who seeks truth and not victims, who serves the law and not factional purposes, and who approaches his task with humility."
(You can read the full text of his powerful speech here.)
While our justice system is one of the best in the world, the scales are weighted toward the prosecution, and there are injustices. I wanted to tell that story from the perspective of a defendant to whom readers could relate—someone who might remind them of themselves, or a friend, family member, or neighbor. I also wanted to use a fictional story to make the ideas more accessible and to avoid the technical complexities of some of the real cases that helped inspire the book.
My goal is for the book to engage readers and provide an entertaining and suspenseful story, but also educate people about the realities of the criminal justice system. If more people understand the system, they’ll be more skeptical of how they view evidence if they are called upon to serve as jurors, and perhaps that will help produce more fair trials. In addition, I hope the book will inspire my readers to work towards criminal justice reform, in whatever small ways they can. And perhaps it will also help people understand that sometimes the solution to a problem isn’t to imprison people.