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Robert J. McWhirter

Robert J. McWhirter is a nationally and internationally known speaker and author on trial advocacy, immigration law, and the history of the bill of rights.

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Who Killed Perry Mason?

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The United States Supreme Court keeps pronouncing we have the right to an effective criminal defense lawyer. It just handed down Hinton v. Alababma, No. 13–6440 (February 24, 2014) holding that your criminal lawyer must be effective when selecting a defense expert. This followed Padilla v. Kentucky, 130 S. Ct. 1473, 1483 (2010) that an effective criminal lawyer must advise you of the collateral consequences of pleading guilty and Lafler v. Cooper, 132 S. Ct. 1376 (2012) that you have the right to an effective lawyer at a change of plea hearing.


But what good is a criminal defense lawyer if no one believes in the presumption of innocence?


Every week for decades Perry Mason defended innocent clients. In Judd, for the Defense (ABC 1967-1969) Clinton Judd defend innocent people and confronted the social issues of the day. In the 1970´s, Owen Marshall: Counselor at Law (ABC 1971-1974) defended the innocent along with his assistant Lee Majors who became TV´s The Six Million Dollar Man. The Bold Ones: The Lawyers (NBC 1968-1972) featured Burl Ives as respected attorney Walter Nichols who hired two young brothers (Joseph Campanella and James Farentino) to defend the innocent. In Petrocelli (NBC 1974-1976), the client was certain to be convicted until Petrocelli would get evidence suggesting, but not necessarily proving, an alternative possibility, which the jury would accept as a reasonable doubt under the presumption of innocence.



But these shows are decades old. The last of them, Matlock – Perry Mason with a folksy twist – last aired in 1995, nearly 20 years ago. Today, the few TV shows about criminal defense attorneys are edgy, such as The Practice (20 Century Fox TV 1997-2004), with usually guilty clients providing the drama.


Prosecutors now rule TV. Law and Order and its numerous spin-offs present the prosecutor putting away the guilty against the odds. There are no innocents in the Law and Order world and acquittals are miscarriages of justice. The Law and Order franchise, as well as semi news shows like Nancy Grace (HLN February 21, 2005 (2005-02-21) – present), represent an entire industry based on the presumption of guilt. Although not about lawyers, the reality show COPS (Fox 1989-present) follows police officers as they arrest suspects red handed. Each episode starts with "COPS is filmed on location as it happens. All suspects are considered innocent until proven guilty in a court of law." The message: all defends are guilty and the presumption of innocence just gets in the way.


Perry Mason is dead.



Criminal Lawyers Guide to Immigation Law

Criminal Lawyers Guide to Immigration Law

By Robert J. McWhirter

The Citizenship Flowchart

The Citizenship Flowchart

By Robert J. McWhirter

At Risk Youth

At Risk Youth

By Robert J. McWhirter w/ J. Jeffries McWhirter, Benedict T. McWhirter, Ellen Hawley McWhirter

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