I Am Incarcerated and Charged with a Crime. How and When Should I Communicate with My Criminal Defense Lawyer?
Communications between a lawyer and a client are important to a successful attorney-client relationship. An informed client is often a happy one. Further, a lawyer who is truthfully informed by his client regarding the subject of the charges can better prepare a defense. This article provides some guidance on effective attorney-client communications, which leads to stronger relations between the parties.
There are many ways for lawyers and clients to communicate. This includes, but is not limited to, phone, text message, email, video-teleconference or chat, letters, written correspondence, and, of course, in-person. For clients who are incarcerated, not all of these communication methods are available. People in jail do not have access to cell phones or computers for texting, emailing or video-conferencing. This limits inmates’ ways of communicating with their lawyers to phone, letters, and in-person.
Phone communications between lawyers and incarcerated clients present unique challenges. First, many lawyers do not accept jail calls. However, if a client calls his lawyer’s office (within reason), the call should be answered. When making these calls, clients should be warned that outgoing jail calls are typically recorded. Most prison phone systems contain warnings to the parties that these calls are recorded. While attorney-client communications are considered private and protected by the law, the parties must do their part to keep their communications confidential. If they knowingly engage in sensitive discussions during a recorded jail call, they do so at their own risk. Not only are jail calls recorded and monitored, they are also reviewed by prosecutors and when they contain incriminating statements, may be offered as evidence at trial. For these reasons, jail calls to your lawyer should be kept to a minimum and not contain any sensitive information. If you would not say it to the prosecutor or police, do not say it to your lawyer over the phone when calling from the cellblock.
If you are incarcerated and need to speak with your lawyer confidentially by phone, ask your counselor or prison authorities for permission to make a legal call. The penal system understands that inmates need to speak with their attorneys. Jail calls are expensive, and some inmates do not have the resources for these calls. Therefore, the jail will (or at least should) accommodate periodic, reasonable legal calls. Scheduled legal calls are private and should not recorded. Further, by scheduling the call in advance, this ensures your lawyer will be available to take the call.
Another way for incarcerated clients to communicate with their lawyers is by letter or written correspondence. When an inmate receives mail from a lawyer that is clearly marked “legal” or “privileged,” the contents are not (or are not supposed to be) to be read or monitored by jail authorities. The best lawyers keep their clients informed with letters summarizing court appearances, enclosing discovery, motions and other materials, relaying pretrial offers from the prosecution, and reporting dates, court decisions and more. The more informed a client is about his case, the more satisfied the client is with his lawyer’s services and the more prepared he will be to assist in his defense. Similarly, if a client has questions or ideas to communicate to his lawyer about the case, the client is encouraged to send a letter. A good lawyer will receive, read and respond to it quickly.
The final way incarcerated clients communicate with their lawyers is in person during jail visits. Normally, clients receive lawyer visits in the very beginning of the attorney-client relationship for purposes of an intake. This is when the lawyer obtains initial background information about the client and the case. Lawyers should next visit clients to review the evidence or discovery, once received. Many lawyers receive and review the discovery on their own. These same lawyers typically do not provide their clients with a copy of the discovery. The best lawyers provide their clients with a full copy of the discovery materials, review alone at first, and then review them together with the client. This is the best time and way for clients and lawyers to ask each other questions about the case evidence for purposes of clarification, additional investigation and discovery, possible motions, and defense strategy development.
As the case progresses to trial, motions, disposition, and sentencing, a lawyer should periodically meet with the client to prepare for these events. Clients often – and sometimes too often – ask when their lawyers will visit. It is understandable that incarcerated clients want to see and meet with their lawyers. However, conducting many and repeated jail visits is not always practical for a lawyer or the most effective way to communicate with clients. Clients who have one or a few non-emergency questions should consider writing a letter or scheduling a legal call. Those who need to review their discovery, discuss the law applicably, or prepare for court should meet in-person. The frequency and duration of jail visits varies by case and stage of the proceedings. For example, a lawyer waiting to receive and/or review discovery will visit a client less frequently than when the parties are preparing together for trial. The number of visits you receive from your lawyer has nothing to do with the quality of representation you are receiving, or the experience and skill of the lawyer who is representing you.
If you are incarcerated, before asking to see your lawyer in person, keep in mind that while visiting you in prison, the lawyer is not actively working on your case or any other case being handled by his office. A lawyer’s true work is done in court, conducting research on the computer or in the law library, and, most importantly, spending quiet, uninterrupted hours thinking, planning, and strategizing in his office. Jail visits, while important to the process, are disruptive to a lawyer’s daily work and do very little to help a client’s case. Many clients seek visits to ask their lawyers how the case is going or for a routine case update. These visits are a complete waste of the lawyer’s time. A good lawyer sends letters and other written correspondence to update his client regularly. Therefore, visits for the limited purpose of providing these updates are unnecessary.
Lawyers want to meet with their clients, just as clients want to meet with their lawyers. However, the lawyer’s primary responsibility is to get the case work done in a manner that leads to a positive result, whether by motion, plea, at trial and/or at sentencing. Clients must understand that when the lawyer needs to speak with the client, he will conduct a visit. If you have a good and trustworthy lawyer, his not visiting usually means he is hard at work either for you or another client who is of equal importance to him. A lawyer is legally and ethically required to give each client his 100% best. Most of this effort occurs outside the client’s presence. This is difficult for many clients to accept or understand, but it is absolutely true.
If you have been charged with a crime and are incarcerated, call the Law Office of John L. Calcagni III, Inc. for a free consultation. Our office consists of a team of lawyers, paralegals, legal assistants and investigators who are led by the dedication, experience and committed hard work of Attorney John L. Calcagni III. By retaining our office, you will become part of the legal team devoted to your defense.