The defense counsel, Chadda, was a tall, angular man with wavy, dark hair and bushy eyebrows. Generally he had a hectoring style and a pugnacious demeanor. He left you in no doubt which side he was on and what he was prepared to do for that side.
So, when I got to know him better after the trial had ended, I was surprised to find that in private he was a very different person. He was suave and considerate, eager to hear your view, patient to a fault. Clearly his courtroom style was one he affected because he thought it gave him a professional edge.
“I no longer had a salary. Nor did I have a well-guarded, well-appointed office, a secretary and an assistant, and a bunch of professional staff I could count on for help. But I was free of all political or official pressure, free to practice law as I wanted.”
He added, “I was free, above all, to choose the cases I took, delve into them as much as I cared, handle them exactly the way I thought best. I decided to choose my cases carefully: cases where I could make a mark or where I would be able to make a noticeable difference. Yes, I wanted to be noticed.”
He explained his aggressive style, “Prosecutors in general were a proud lot for a good reason. Their adversaries were often poorly paid, insufficiently prepared lawyers ready to strike a deal and avoid a trial. I wanted a trial, where I could punch a hole in their hubris. I accepted a few briefs, investigated personally, prepared rigorously and went to court like a gladiator.”
It was a brutal case in an nearby village. An affluent farmer had been killed with a machete, his head nearly severed with a formidable strike. There was no eyewitness, but since the man had a land dispute with a neighboring farmer for years and their dispute had burst into ugly brawls in public more than once, the other farmer, Jit, was a prime suspect and promptly interrogated. The police gathered a large body of circumstantial evidence and charged Jit. The local lawyer who had initially advised Jit knew that he would be beyond his depth in a capital case. So he bowed out and the brief came to Chadda.
“I studied the voluminous file punctiliously, examined and reexamined every shred of evidence, then went to the village and visited the scene of crime. I memorized every name, checked every photograph with a microscope, and studied all the police and medical reports.”
“Didn’t you speak with the alleged killer, Jit himself?” I asked.
“At that stage, no. I make it a principle never to ask the client if he or she has committed the crime. Often clients lie and say they are innocent. In any case, their guilt or innocence is none of my business. It is for the judge to decide that. As their lawyer, my responsibility is to present the best defense, the most credible and advantageous interpretation of the evidence on their behalf. I spoke to him for a few minutes just before the trial only to reassure him and to advise him not to open his mouth.”
“It wasn’t done badly, but, as always, there were loose links. I was armed to the teeth and I exploited every lapse. I questioned the official witnesses mercilessly. Then the prosecutor presented his arguments, competently but perfunctorily. Finally, at the end of the third day. it was my turn.
“I had prepared well, and I delivered my points with all the eloquence I could muster. I emphasized that there were undeniable gaps in the evidence and none could send an innocent man to his death on that basis. The jurors were clearly spellbound. Even the judge looked impressed.
“As the court adjourned for the day, I was certain that I had scored a victory. Then the strange thing happened.
I was about to leave, when he suddenly blurted out, ‘I am genuinely sorry I killed that man in a rage. Please save me.’”
Chadda continued, “I came out of the court in a daze. Unknown to me, working hard to find holes in the evidence, I had convinced myself of the innocence of my client. Now I knew he wasn’t innocent. I couldn’t sleep that night. I kept running in my mind the picture of the blood-soaked victim. And the thought of the killer I had helped to set free.”
The next morning, Chadda said, he was the happiest man on earth when the judge took the jurors’ verdict and declared that defendant had been found guilty. Following the jury’s recommendation, however, instead of sending him to the death row, he gave the man a life sentence. Chadda had lost the case, but he had learned a lesson.