Dahlia Lithwick makes a compelling, if unltimately unpersuasive, case against allowing those like John Allen Muhammad–who has since decided having real attorneys is a good idea after all–to defend themselves. While I agree with everything Lithwick says, I the problem is with the counterfactual: putting people’s lives, liberty, and property at risk of state action while forcing them to go with an attorney forced upon them by the state.

The really sad thing about Lithwick’s piece, though, is this damning indictment of the adversarial system:

It is a myth that trials are about “telling your story”; that, as Muhammad seems to believe, if you can just get up and babble at the jurors, they’ll eventually believe you. Trials are about managing a complex system of filters that allows some evidence to be heard and some to be suppressed. Trials are about subtle cross-examinations that diminish the credibility of a key witness. Trials are about the introduction of mitigating evidence at the sentencing phase. Managing your defense without command of these skills is like performing a heart transplant without surgical training–something else we do not, by the way, generally permit.

So, trials are about all sorts of things–except the truth.

FILED UNDER: Law and the Courts,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.