I am in (secular) law school and am exploring my professional options. One of those options is to become a criminal defence attorney.

In my country of residence, attorneys qualified in a specific area of law are forbidden from rejecting clients on the basis that they are notorious or highly suspected of being guilty. If I am approached by a potential client who is able to pay my standard rate, and I am physically available to defend the person and am knowledgable in the relevant area of law, I am legally required to defend the individual.

Thus, it is possible that I would be legally required to defend someone who has violated one of the Noachide laws, etc. It is possible that in doing so, someone who I suspect is guilty would be acquitted on the basis of issues with the prosecution, in accordance with the laws of my country of residence. Although it is unlawful for me to lie in court, if a client who I suspect is guilty claims he is innocent, I would be required to try to make that case to the best of my ability.

What are my obligations in regards to Halacha, if I were to become a criminal defence attorney? I am aware that as a Jew I am required to distance myself from untruth, etc. Am I permitted to defend such people? What if, for example, such a person has clearly violated a Noachide law or harmed a Jew, but could be acquitted as a result of the prosecution having illegally obtained all of the evidence?

  • RFP? [15charachters]
    – Double AA
    Commented Apr 20, 2020 at 13:15
  • @dou yes indeed imo
    – msh210
    Commented Apr 20, 2020 at 17:19
  • 2
    Sorry, what is the meaning of RFP?
    – JosephG
    Commented Apr 20, 2020 at 19:45
  • If the prosecution has broken the law, then technically the defendant is not criminally liable. As such you should be allowed to defend his as long as you are not lying Commented Jun 5, 2020 at 16:27
  • This question seems to be asking for a psak halacha. For that one must consult a rabbi, not rely on a website.
    – N.T.
    Commented Nov 14, 2021 at 4:38

2 Answers 2


Whether your client is actually guilty or not, should be immaterial.

When defending a person in secular court, your job is to make sure to hold the prosecution to the prevalent laws of the land, and require it to prove its case against the defendant, in court, and beyond a reasonable doubt.

If you can do so, without saying any untruth, then you should be able to take the case. You can always say, "The defendant claims...", which is not that you're vouching for its veracity, just that your presenting his claim to the court.

One source - see #10

Note #5 - in the name of Rabbi Aaron Lichtenstein

  • 1
    How do you know this?
    – Double AA
    Commented Apr 20, 2020 at 13:14
  • 2
    This article also mentions the principle of לא תעמוד על דם רעך - would this mean that if the defendant is potentially dangerous, one has a positive obligation to see to it that they are imprisoned if they know them to be guilty, regardless of obligations to apply the laws of the land (Eg. Suppose a police officer conducted a search without a warrent, which demonstrated guilt, but the evidence is inadmissible in court) ? Does Halacha prioritize the fulfilment of this mitzvah, or the necessity of following a country's laws?
    – JosephG
    Commented Apr 20, 2020 at 14:10
  • we need to know more about the exact parameters of the obligation of לא תעמוד על דם רעך. Is there currently a real credible threat to anyone's life, because this person is walking free? Even if a person might have committed a crime in the past, who says that he will be a repeat offender? Commented Apr 20, 2020 at 14:37
  • 1
    The second article link does not support your claim, and note #5 is irrelevant here.
    – simyou
    Commented Apr 20, 2020 at 17:08
  • @simyou We can agree to disagree about note #5. Rabbi Aaron Lichtenstein allegedly sees no major problem in serving as a defense attorney in criminal cases, without ANY qualifier. This, despite the fact there's a distinct possibility that the lawyer might suspect that the defendant actually did commit the crime. Commented Apr 20, 2020 at 17:58

In Rambam's Mishneh Torah Hilchos Sanhedrin chapter 26 halacha 7, it says the following:


When any person has a judgment adjudicated by gentile judges and their courts, he is considered a wicked person. It is as if he disgraced, blasphemed, and lifted up his hand against the Torah of Moses our teacher. This applies even if their laws are the same as the laws of the Jewish people. This is indicated by Exodus 21:1: "These are the judgments that you shall place before them." "Before them" and not before gentiles; "before them" and not before ordinary people.

The following procedure should be carried out if the gentiles have a powerful law enforcement system and the opposing litigant is a stubborn and powerful person from whom one cannot expropriate property through the judicial system of the Jewish people. One should summon him before the Jewish judges first. If he did not desire to come, one may receive license from the court and salvage one's property from the litigant by having the case tried in a gentile court.

it seems pretty clear that if even bringing a case to non-jewish court is problematic, for sure defending someone in it without legitimate cause. However, in the second paragraph of the above-quoted Rambam, as well as in the Shulchan Aruch Chosen Mishpat chapter 26 it says that there is at least one case where it's permitted to go to secular court:

היתה יד עכו"ם תקיפה ובעל דינו אלם ואינו יכול להציל ממנו בדייני ישראל יתבענו לדייני ישראל תחלה אם לא רצה לבא נוטל רשות מב"ד ומציל בדיני עכו"ם מיד בעל דינו: הגה ויש רשות לב"ד לילך לפני עכו"ם ולהעיד שזה חייב לזה (בה"ת בשם ר' שרירא) וכל זה דוקא כשאינו רוצה להיות ציית דין אבל בלא"ה אסור לב"ד להרשות לדון לפני עכו"ם (מהרי"ק שורש א'):

so perhaps in that one case alone it would be ok

  • 1
    Totally irrelevant to the discussion. The OP is about serving as a criminal defense attorney, defending people in criminal court, not about being a litigation lawyer who goes after people for their money, in civil court. Commented Jun 4, 2020 at 23:16
  • 1
    You should deal with the case as asked by the OP. That is if the defendant may not br criminally liable in the gentile court but is halachically guilty. Commented Jun 5, 2020 at 16:29
  • @sabbahillel what r u talking about? we are talking about halacha Commented Jun 8, 2020 at 15:48
  • @IsraelReader where do see any diistinction between civil and criminal court in the rambam? its still a non-jewish court, and that is the point!!!!!! Commented Jun 8, 2020 at 15:49
  • @wowow The Rambam is speaking about a PLAINTIFF. The OP is speaking about a DEFENDANT. Commented Jun 8, 2020 at 21:26

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