How to Tell Your Client They’re Going to Jail
What are the most challenging moments of your legal career?
Adding to Lawyer Monthly’s repertoire of law school & careers features, for paralegals, newly graduates, and those simply hoping to jump into an exciting world of law, here Andrea Hall, Founder and Principle of US based The Hall Law Office, LLC, discusses her own challenges in the legal world, and talks us through some of the most difficult moments of her career.
As a criminal defense attorney the worst thing you can have to say to a client is you’re going to jail or to a parent that your child, no matter the age, is potentially going to jail. What makes my heart stop is it could be for life. I have specialized in sex offenses and domestic violence my whole career and it never gets easy telling a client that they are looking at prison time.
I will never forget the first client who was sentenced to life. It feels like it was yesterday. I think of him often and wonder what he is doing how he is handling life in prison. As a defense attorney you are told you have to keep it together and remain stoic. As I stood at the podium that day with my client and the judge imposed the sentence I felt my knees go week. I could hear his mother collapse and start to cry. My client did his best to hold it together even though he was aware of the worst-case scenario we were both still holding out hope. I blinked my eyes and cleared my throat and thought no I didn’t just hear that did I? Sure, enough the deputies came over and my client looked at me and said life. Are you kidding me you have to get me out of here.
My next thought was I got to get out of here before I lose it. I remember sitting in my office with the door shut and not wanting to speak with anyone. For 2 days I just wanted to hole up and say screw the system. How did this happen on my watch? What could I have done differently? After the dust settled I realized I fought the battle and unfortunately lost the war to the system.
When a client has never been in trouble before and thinks the system works like you were taught in school they are amazed at how the cops can lie, cheat and steal and that is because society believes the ends justify the means. I can not tell you the number of times clients say to me how can someone say I did something without something more like DNA or another witness and now I am looking at life in prison. It is easy to make an allegation and very difficult to defend it. Remember you are guilty until proven innocent. NOT the other way around. How is it possible that the cops can tell me they want to talk to me about something and then after 30 minutes they flip the script and start interrogating me and that is ok.
Unfortunately, cops are trained in aspects of interrogation and they are taught not to take no for an answer. Even sometimes the words “I want a lawyer” doesn’t stop them from continuing to pursue the final result of a confession.
People ask me all the time: ‘How can you defend someone who is guilty?’ I clearly state my job is not to decide guilt or innocence, my job is to make sure the police and prosecution do their job and that the Constitution is upheld. I continue to fight the battle and pray for changes in the system. After 13 years the task of talking about jail has not gotten easier. The only Justice is “Just Us”!