Cynthia Godsoe

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This contribution to the Mercer University School of Law's 2017 Symposium on Disruptive Innovation in Criminal Defense discusses two interrelated defense strategies: humanizing the accused and contextualizing their actions in a society plagued with racism and poverty, and ceding substantial control of the defense strategy and legwork to the accused, and their family and friends. The first strategy should not be, but is, disruptive; in a just (and sane?) criminal legal system, this would be a regular part of the process. In our current vast system of social control, however, focusing on the people in the system as anything other than numbers or "bad actors" is often not the norm, even by the attorneys defending them. The second strategy, empowering defendants' families to assist or even challenge defense attorneys, is truly radical. It shifts notions of expertise and questions deeply-embedded power structures between attorneys and clients. As such, it has the potential to not only shake up the public defense framework--one in which, the clients, low-income by definition, have particularly little power-but also to reinvigorate the attorney-client relationship more broadly.'