31 March 2006

Life as a Criminal Defense Attorney

A couple weeks back Client surprised me by changing his guilty plea to not guilty and asking for a jury trial. The case got continued and I need to meet with Client - who's already locked up in a prison reception center waiting to be sent to a more permanent DOC facility for a prior conviction (on a different charge).

So, my secretary calls last Wednesday and sets up a meeting for yesterday at 3 p.m. That makes it hard to get there after court but every prison I've been to ends visitation at 4 p.m; I have to go that early or not go at all. I finish my afternoon in court just before 2 p.m. I hustle out to my car and hope that if I'm a little late they'll still allow me to get in to visit Client.

I buzz down the road - scrupulously obeying all the posted speed limits - and, after a long drive down a pretty country highway, I arrive only five minutes late. It's something of a minor miracle and I get out of my car and empty my pockets of everything but my keys, a pen, and my wallet.

As I walk down the path to the gate there are a bunch of guys having their time in the yard. They're dressed in about 5 different color jump suits but they're all intermixed so I don't know what the colors represented. One of the guys yells to another "Hey Bobby, ain't that the SOB attorney who got you put in here?" I look up and, no, I'm not the SOB attorney who got Bobby put in there. The two guys are laughing like they've made the world's funniest joke - I just grin and keep moving.

I get to the gate and a guard walks up to the chain link fence and asks my business. I tell him I am Attorney Lammers here to visit Client Smith. He asks for my ID and when I pull out my wallet tells me that I've got to take that back to my car. I hand him my ID through the fence and walk back to my car to drop off the wallet.

This time as I walk back the guard in the tower is yelling at the inmates that yard time is over and to return to the building. The tower is outside the fence and the guard is sitting looking down at the inmates with a rifle next to her. At first the inmates don't do anything and she has to yell at them a couple more times. A couple of the inmates yell up at her. "Why don't you come down here and escort me to the cell." "I bet a little thing like you can't even pick up that big ole' gun." Still, they all start shuffling back into the buildings.

As I get back to the front gate I hear the guard yelling to a white-shirt over by the front door: "Lieutenant, the guy this lawyer's here to see got moved this morning." I look at the guard and say "You've got to be kidding me?!" The lieutenant quickly comes over and tells the guard to check again. "I already did . . ." "Then check to see where he went to." The guard and lieutenant disappear into the guard shack and a minute later the lieutenant is walking down the path toward me looking unhappy. I think he was anticipating a confrontation with a rabid lawyer. "Sir, Mr. Smith was transferred to BFE correctional facility." He almost winces when he says it because he knows that BFE is at least three hours away.

I want to scream. I want to yell at somebody for allowing an attorney appointment to be set when they probably already knew he was being moved. I want to yell at somebody about how stupid it is to move someone who has a jury trial scheduled in this county to a prison half way across the Commonwealth. I really want to yell at someone for not having the decency to call my office so my secretary could have called me and told me not to drive out there. Still, I can't yell at this lieutenant; he's just the guy in charge of guarding the gate. I mumble something about how fun that's going make Client's jury trial, ask for my ID back, and leave.

So I drive the hour back to my office (which is closer than the courthouse was). I look up exactly where BFE Correctional is and it's 2+ hours south of my office (the place he was at is 1 hour north of my office). Just great. Now I'm going to have to make at least two (probably more) 4+ hour round trips to prep Client for his jury. I can do some of the basic stuff through letters and phone conferences but I'd really like to meet my client face to face to prep for a trial. Now all I have to do is find entire days when I have nothing else to do and can travel down to visit him before the prison shuts down visitation.

4 comments:

Bryan said...

That experience sounds familiar. I spent 4.5 hours on Wednesday and 4 Thursday hours driving to visit prisons for meetings with clients that took about an hour. I have had probation officers get the prisons to set up phone calls, but the prisons will not set up or allow attorney-client phone coversations. I'm not sure that phone calls are practical but the road time is costly to the state.

Anonymous said...

Wow, that's tough. When I was a law student in connecticut working in clinics we could set up attorney-client phone calls (question #1 - has your counselor left the room?). In addition, with a bar card (or rather, a supervising attorney with a bar card) we were allowed to meet with clients during non-regular visiting hours. I know some students who were prepping for trial met with their client pretty late at night.

James E. Martin said...

Great Story, BTW: you are one hell of a writer, your story and more importantly your frustration came through very well:)

ACS said...

Good luck with your trial!

Man, how lame, though. I'm so glad that I have don't have to travel much now. I do remember how frustrated I'd be when I'd get to jail and find out that somebody was stabbed to death or shot inside the prison and the place was on lock down.

Driving to some prisons and finding them closed is bad, but the worst was during law school when I had little time, I'd pedal my bike to jail. I'd do it late so I could be in and out quick. My clients didn't care about the hours, they were happy to see me. The jail was only 15 minutes away from school and 30 minutes or so away from home (even less when I usually biked in the middle of the night). Especially in winter, I'd be really sad if I couldn't visit my clients because somebody just got shot or if they were locked down for some other reason. I'd have to bike my arse back home in the rainy cold, cursing my miserable existence!