This week I had the pleasure and honor of teaching at West Point, the most prestigious military college in the world. A couple of years ago, Forbes Magazine named West Point (so named because it is located on the western point of the Hudson River) the “Number 1 undergraduate college in the United States”. The admission process is grueling, with only the most qualified students – all of whom are nominated by a United States Senator or Member of Congress – being admitted. Our government pays all expenses for a four-year college education coupled with intense military training all year and in the summers of the 47-month experience at “the Point”. When the cadets graduate, they are commissioned Second Lieutenants in the United States Army. In return for the education and training (valued at over $400,000), cadets commit to serve 5 years active duty and three years in the Army Reserve. The cadets are patriotic young men and women who are taught to lead with honor and integrity.
I was invited to guest lecture on Constitutional Criminal Law and Procedure to cadets taking law classes. The United States Military Academy does not have a law school; however, cadets can major in law taking many legal courses including, of course, military law.
During my career as a criminal defense attorney, I have represented many members of our Armed Forces, both officers and non-commissioned soldiers, sailors, Marines and Coast Guard members. I have found the military courts, generally (no pun intended) to be fair; although these days, as the military releases more men and woman and as the services get smaller, there is much less tolerance for violations of military (and civilian) law.
I taught upper classmen and women – juniors and seniors. I was very pleased to see the diversity amongst the Corps. The cadets asked very good questions and we had robust discussions in each class as we discussed individual rights, Constitutional protections afforded by our Bill of Rights, and some differences between the civilian courts and military tribunals. We talked about the importance of military defense lawyers representing their clients vigorously and not being intimidated by higher-ranking military judges and jurors. I told the cadets how much I respect the military lawyers assigned to represent the accused terrorists who are being held in Guantanamo since, I believe, that their determined and passionate defense of their clients, including filing motions attacking the “evidence” obtained by torture – including multiple waterboardings – will almost certainly negatively affect their careers and future promotions.
We discussed the presumption of innocence and the fact that an accused never has to prove that they are innocent; the burden is always on the government or military prosecutors to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. After all, the cadets, and all of our volunteer Armed Forces, put themselves in harm’s way to protect our way of life, including our system of government and law, which seeks to protect certain inalienable rights guaranteed by our Constitution.
The cadets at West Point were attentive and very involved in the classes. They were genuinely concerned about the conflicts between individual rights and the poets of the government.
I have been privileged to teach United States Navy attorneys, and lawyers and law students all over our great nation for the past 35 years. This year, I have had the pleasure of teaching at Tulane University School of Law in New Orleans and at the Stetson University School of Law in Gulfport, Florida and at legal seminars in Las Vegas, Aspen, and Key West. I love teaching law; I am so fortunate to have been able to practice my chosen profession for the past 40 years. Teaching is a great way to “give back”.
I’ll admit I may be a bit biased since one of my four sons is a third year cadet at West Point, however, I have no hesitancy in saying that I have renewed faith in our time ahead, as I see these fine young men and women who will be some of our best leaders long into the future. I am invigorated by their zeal and dedication, and very much appreciate the opportunity to have taught at West Point.