You asked: How can one defend a 'terrorist'?

NEED TO KNOW
  • Dzhokhar Tsarneav is charged in the Boston bombings
  • If convicted, Tsarneav could face the death penalty
  • Many of HLN's Facebook and Twitter followers say they don't understand how someone can help an alleged terrorist
You asked: How can one defend a 'terrorist'?

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The legal case of Boston marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarneav is shining a spotlight on federal public defenders.

Simply put, they are attorneys that represent defendants charged with crimes in the federal court system that can't afford to pay for legal counsel.

The right to counsel is afforded to every American, and it is enshrined in the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Read more: Tsarneav charged in Boston bombings

Court documents filed this week say three federal public defenders are assigned to represent Tsarneav. The attorneys are Miriam Conrad, William Fick and Timothy Watkins.

Read more: Meet the Boston bombing suspect's defense team

Many of HLN's Facebook and Twitter followers say they don't understand how someone can help an alleged terrorist.

Carlos Warner (pictured above) is a federal public defender for the northern district of Ohio, and people routinely ask him how he can bring himself to represent people accused of heinous acts like terrorism.

"You should listen to my voicemail one day and then you’ll get the drift of it, because I’ll come in and return the calls if they are reasonable, but on an average day I will have five to 10 taped calls on my voicemail," said Warner. "People say how can you defend terrorists, sometimes they leave a number and I will call them back and I’ll say, 'Did you know that the guys in Guantanamo, our government has said that they’re innocent -- and they’re not a danger?' 'No I did not know that.' 'Well look, here is the information.' And then I’ll say, 'The other guys, do you think they should have a trial?'"

"Of course, we realize there are no plans for them to have a trial. They are going to be held there forever, without a trial. That can’t be. So sometimes, not always, but sometimes, you can take someone like that and with just very basic information they’ll turn 180 degrees on you," said Warner.

Warner has 15 years of public defense work under his belt, and for the last eight years he has focused on federal cases. He says he was drawn to the work, because he believes in upholding the Constitution and our nation's system of justice.

"For me, it was my first legal love. I mean, I worked with people charged with crimes in law school, and I went to a large firm for my first job. And within six months, I knew I had to go back defending people. And that’s what I did. So ... it’s a calling, but people do it for different ways. For me, it’s always been about defending our Constitution and that’s what is so offensive about what so many people are saying about this young man that is charged with these terrorist acts in Boston," said Warner.

Warner said the idea that some politicians want to strip Tsarneav of his rights and and classify him as any enemy combatant is unprecedented and a gross violation of the Constitution.

"First of all, everybody is a human being and what we’re talking about with Boston specifically is an American citizen. Sometimes I don’t even represent American citizens obviously. But we are talking about somebody who has inalienable rights," said Warner. "If the government is willing to call Tsarneav a naturalized citizen, an enemy combatant, strip all his rights away and send him to some foreign place where he has no due process, then the government might be willing to do that to anybody."

"So I have no problem at all standing up and representing people under the Constitution because when I do that I am enforcing the Constitution. We as American citizens need to be so grateful that we have a Constitution and we have these rights that cannot be taken away by the executives unilaterally when they choose," said Warner.

Protecting his clients' constitutional rights drives Warner, but he said the most rewarding part of his job is when a client thanks him for helping them through a tough situation.

"The guy that I represented today, no criminal record, never been to court before, I mean it was one of the worst days of his life today and um, it was my job to walk him through. He thanked me at the end of the day, and that is all the reason why we do the job, I think. I think every public defender has that in them. I think that everyone has different motivations but everyone has a client-based practice, we’re doing it to help the people we represent," Warner said.

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