Is Being a Defense Attorney a Dangerous Job?

A good defense attorney is expected to do everything possible to protect his or her client, but in 1871, Clement Vallandigham's vigorous defense cost him his life.

Ohio defense attorney Clement Vallandigham accidentally shot himself with a loaded pistol when attempting to prove his client's innocence.
Ohio defense attorney Clement Vallandigham accidentally shot himself with a loaded pistol when attempting to prove his client's innocence.

Vallandigham, a prominent Ohio lawyer and politician who had led the anti-war "Copperhead" Democrats during the Civil War, was called upon to defend Thomas McGehean, who had allegedly shot and killed another man during a card game.

Vallandigham took his job seriously, and after conducting intensive research, decided that the man who had been killed had actually shot himself by accident. To prove his point, Vallandigham met with fellow attorneys in a hotel room to show how he would reenact the shooting with an unloaded pistol and convince the jury.

Unfortunately, things were a little too authentic, as Vallandigham failed to remove the bullets from the pistol he had selected. He ended up doing to himself what he said had happened to the unfortunate card player. "I have foolishly shot myself," Vallandigham said before dying. As for McGehean, he was found not guilty, but his luck only held out for a short time. He, too, was shot to death in the town of Hamilton a few years later.

All about the law:

  • The United States alone has about 1.34 million lawyers, or approximately one lawyer for every 240 people.

  • In 1869, Arabella Mansfield of Iowa became the first female lawyer in America; she had to file a lawsuit against the state bar to sit for the exam.

  • Despite what you might think, defense attorneys do not have to tell anyone if their client admits his guilt; the lawyer only has to prevent him from lying under oath.


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Discussion Comments

dimchild

This is a horrible story by all standards.

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