Post written by Alexander Ioannidas
How can you as a defense attorney also claim to follow Christ? Do you not feel bad helping horrible people stay out of trouble?
Those are questions I frequently heard since I was seventeen years old and told people I wanted to do criminal defense ministry.
I will never forget the night in August, 2015, where I stood on a street corner watching gang members crying and lighting candles as they mourned the loss of one of their only “family” members. Since then, I was determined to point people to Christ through the ministry of criminal defense.
The Prison Project
Today, we started the prison project. This is a project where we load up the bus, drive five hours away to Gulu, and work to negotiate plea deals for criminal defendants. As someone with a passion for criminal defense, the opportunity to do this kind of work was music to my ears. I could not wait to find people who lacked quality legal assistance and give them the best representation possible. One of the reasons I came to law school was to stand up for underdogs, and criminal defense work is one of the best ways to do so.
After our first day, my perspective changed. Today, we met Albert (this is not his real name, but a pseudonym I use to protect his confidentiality) in the Gulu prison. He was accused of a crime that sent chills down my spine: raping a nine-year old family member while watching an adult film. When I first saw this, my heart broke. Crimes like these should not be committed. They go against God’s created order. Second, Albert admitted this crime to the police when they arrested him in 2020. He showed remorse and did not deny it. I felt sorry for him and for his victim. I introduced myself and promised to give him the best legal aid I possibly could. I even prayed with him that we could negotiate a good deal because his charge can be a capital offense.
My co-counsel and I went to the prosecutors to find out what kind of offers they were willing to make. I thought “if we can keep this guy from getting the death penalty, it will be a victory.” I was surprised when the prosecutors only asked for fifteen years. To me, this was a no-brainer. Albert, however, did not want anything more than seven years, and he asked us to renegotiate the deal. After a bit of negotiating, we reduced the sentence to twelve years, but it did not sit right with me. If I were a judge, I would not sign off on such a deal. We won, but I had never felt so disappointed in a victory. How does a Christian approach this? I do not know the best answer, but I can share how I reconciled this deal mentally.
First, everyone deserves legal representation. The prosecution sends its best lawyers against a defendant to try to make a victim whole. For Albert, we were the first lawyers he ever saw. Our job is to serve his interests. Second, all plea deals must be approved by the judge. We advocated for a generous deal for our client, as we were supposed to do. We did our part, but justice will still be served as the prosecution and the judge must agree to this low sentence.
Finally, we rest in God’s sovereignty. All of us are born with wicked hearts just like Albert’s, but Christ died for all of us to set us free from sin and to give us new hearts. In the end, our heart transformation is even more important than a plea deal, and Christian lawyers doing defense work should use these relationships to point people to Christ.
Our Team of Ugandan Lawyers and Law Students Working on our Very First File – This is the first opportunity I ever had to be a criminal’s advocate.
This post was written by a Center for Global Justice Student Staff member. The views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect those of Regent University, Regent Law School, or the Center for Global Justice.