Coming to Georgia State Law, Devin Rafus (J.D. ’19) did not have a clear idea of exactly what he wanted to practice, but that quickly changed. It only took one criminal law focused Student Trial Lawyers Association competition for him to become hooked. From that point forward, Rafus filled up his course schedule with criminal law classes and pursued externships in the field.
Now, Rafus is two years out of law school and has really hit the ground running. The first thing he did as a sworn attorney in Georgia was argue before the Georgia Supreme Court. He currently is a senior associate at Arora Law, a firm focused on criminal defense. With courtrooms opening back up following the pandemic, this summer he is busy preparing for several trials – including one murder trial that he is in the middle of right now. Here, he talks about his big takeaways since becoming a defense attorney.
Why did you become interested in criminal law?
The cases in general really interest me. Everything that comes across my desk is so different. Of course there will be similar charges, but the facts that lead to the charges are always going to be unique.
That’s what sparked my interest, but once I started interning at Manny Arora’s office, meeting the clients is what solidified that I wanted to go into criminal defense. They’re putting their faith in you to help them out in what is probably one of the scariest time of their lives. Their life and their liberty is literally in your hands and that is a huge motivator.
What does your day-to-day look like?
I just try to touch every single case that we have. We are very motions heavy practice, so we really dive into the evidence and try to come up with creative ways to challenge the law. We’ve been up to the Georgia Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals on some of these issues and we get denied sometimes but you can’t change the law unless you challenge it.
What have you learned since becoming an attorney?
This may not shock a lot of people but the constitutional right of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ is a legal fiction. Naively, I believed that right was sacrosanct. Representing clients that are accused of crimes, I’ve learned it’s the opposite; It’s guilty until proven innocent. It is already an uphill battle defending against the state and the federal government, but it is even more difficult when the rights presumed to be guaranteed to an accused are not being honored.
What are some of the positives of your job?
The biggest positive is meeting and getting to know our clients. The prosecution constantly see defendants’ names written in indictments and motions, but when you actually meet the person that’s being charged with the crimes, you get a totally different perspective and often get to see another side to this person. Getting to see our clients’ reaction whenever we get a good result makes it worth it. Even if it’s a bad result, we fight so hard and push ourselves to the limit in these cases that the clients are happy, no matter what the result, because they can tell we did our best and that we fought for them.
Interview by Mara Thompson