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Copyright (c) 2001 Georgetown Law Journal
Georgetown Law Journal

ESSAY: Race Prosecutors, Race Defenders

July, 2001

89 Geo. L.J. 2227


Anthony V. Alfieri*



For more than a decade, I have searched the ethics of the lawyering process for the place of identity, narrative, and community, initially looking to poverty law practice 1 and more recently turning to criminal law representation. 2 From the outset, race figured prominently in this search. During the last five years, the figurations of race have grown to occupy a central part of what is now an ongoing study of lawyers and ethics in cases of racially motivated violence. 3 The purpose of this continuing project is to understand the nature and meaning of racial identity, the sound and substance of racialized narrative, and the form and ethical content of race-neutral representation for both prosecutors and defense lawyers in the criminal justice system.

To that end, the project has focused, perhaps errantly, on high-profile criminal race cases drawn from contemporary American legal history. Constructed from transcripts, court records, and media reports, these trials of racial violence bristle with the rhetoric of race. The discourse and imagery infusing the prosecution and defense of racial violence revive the controversy over our vision of the good lawyer in race trials. At stake in this controversy are the status of racial dignity and community in American law and the norms of moral nonaccountability and race-neutrality in legal advocacy and ethics. Instead of the promise of resolution, the project proposes the modest accommodation of reconciling racial dignitary and community interests with the duties of effective representation in criminal ...
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