And Throw Away The Key

A lot of my clients take drug programs instead of jail. This works out for everyone. For clients, who get treatment, and who like the programs better than jail. For clients' families, who get a new clean dad or husband or wife or mother, instead of one that just languished away in jail. For the judges and the courts, who get to feel like they're actually doing something good for once. And for defense lawyers, who get to say to the client, "Well, it looks like you'll be avoiding jail."

Except that, a lot of times, it just doesn't work out. Overcoming an addiction is terribly difficult and most people don't make it their first time. Or their second or their third. In speaking to family members or attorneys who have never used drugs, I draw the analogy of quitting smoking or going on a diet. Many people try over and over before they get it right - if they are ever successful.

But, many of my clients are looking at jail if they screw up. That's not to say that their program won't give them chances. Most programs will allow a relapse or two. But, leave the program when you're not supposed to, or sneak contraband into the program, or have too many disciplinary problems, and you might be discharged to do your jail time.

For some clients, the threat of jail is the extra incentive they need to clean up. For others, its an added pressure that drives them to use.

I had a client recently avoid jail by agreeing to enter a residential treatment program. In negotiating the deal, I had spoken to his wife a number of times. She had a new baby and had told her husband that he wasn't welcome at home until he cleaned up. She and I had spoken extensively about her husband's addiction.

The court offered my client 6 months jail or a 6 month residential program. The catch is that if he failed to complete the 6 month residential program, he'd face one year of jail.

It is always difficult to counsel clients on this decision. Very few of my clients successfully complete the program. The rest are setting themselves up for "jail on the installment plan." Most clients cannot see it this way. Most look at the short term and see "leaving jail today," not "possibly coming back to jail for a year." Every client believes that they'll be the one to be successful, that this is their chance (or maybe they don't even believe it, they're just saying it), and who am I to tell them otherwise? I lay out the choices, and the consequences, and let my clients make their own decisions.

Anyway, this one particular client - the one with the new baby - chose a program. He knew that even if he served out his jail time, he'd need a program before he could come home. He figured that he might as well get some treatment during his time. As usual, I spoke with him and his family about the options and the consequences. After it was set up, I spoke to his wife again, and she agreed to bring some of his belongings to him at the program.

This was a few weeks ago. We're scheduled to return to court in a few weeks for a progress update from the program.

Last week, while I was on trial, I got a voice mail. It simply stated, "I'm just calling to let you know that Mr. Client is smoking crack again. [Click]." No name, no phone number, nothing. The message wasn't long enough for me to be sure, but I felt fairly certain the message was from his wife. The only other possibility I could think of was that the program called me, but they would've left more information and would have also informed the court.

Monday I'm in my office and I get another call. I answer, and a woman states, "I just want to let you know. Mr. Client was seen back in the neighborhood. I know he was getting high." I reply, "Ok... thanks for letting me know." At this point, I'm thinking, what does she want me to do, go down there and pry the crackpipe from his hands? There are a few things that I consider outside the realm of my profession, and that's one of them. I ask, "Can I ask who's calling?" And the woman replies, "Consider this an anonymous tip," and hangs up.

Now I'm positive that this is my clients wife. But the next question is, what does she expect me to do? Call the court and rat him out for leaving his program? They'll know when he doesn't show up with a progress report. Go stop him? Again, there's a lot I'll do from my clients. I'll play social worker, therapist, and family counselor if needed - but I don't pry the crackpipe from anyone's lips.

Today, the answer comes to me in the form of a voicemail. "Miss Justice. I am just calling to let you know that I saw it for myself and Mr. Client is out smoking crack again..." (Now I'm getting frustrated. How often is she going to call? And what the heck does she want me to do about it?) "...He's at the corner of [this street] and [that street]. You need to get out here and lock him up."

Ha! Lock him up! It's so funny because so many criminal defendants (and their families) say again and again that they believe that their public defender is part of the system, or trying to get them to cop out, or trying to keep them locked up. But it never ever occurred to me, that my client's wife, after all the conversations I had with her, believed that I had a pair of handcuffs that I could use to lock up my own client when I so chose.

Tee-hee. I'm still laughing. Lock him up? Ha!


  1. Ack. Well that's one I've never had happen before. I've had family members call the police on their own but nobody's ever called me and told me to.

    I don't think the lady understands the concept of "defense attorney."

  2. most of my clients screw up just weeks before they are supposed to be discharged from drug court. I think the program might be too good, because once they realize they will be without that ever so strong safety net, they decide to fly the coop. I've got one, though, that has been in and out for the past two years. He's supposed to graduate from the program in January and I've promised him that I would fly back for his graduation no matter where I was. And, you know what? It's such a fabulous thing when someone does pull through, that I wouldn't miss it for the world.

    I think I told you about the child sex case guy's family? Well, they came in and gave us this long schpiel and at the end they said "if he did this to his own kids, he should be punished." I quickly reminded them that our job was not to play detective and find out if he did it and then mete out the punishment, but to defend him, no matter what. I still don't know if they truly understand what our job is and to whom we are loyal. Oh well.

  3. Was in juvenile court the other day explaining to the parents what the deal was and my guys POS step-dad says, "can't you try and get him locked up a little longer?" *sigh*