“Would you like to hire a lawyer?”
I’d been in the house for maybe four hours, but I’d been a lawyer for eight years and I knew what being paged sounded like. Still, I’d never had an eleven-year-old client before.
“Nah,” the kid said.
Which let’s be honest is par for the course. I’m pretty great if you need an analysis of why we maybe have indefinite detention without representation in the USA now, but not so great if you want to get the charging cord for your tablet back from mom, or negotiate your punishment for going into your sister’s room, where you know you’re not supposed to be.
In the end, the kid didn’t hire me. His mom did. Chump. We negotiated a reasonable deal; he wrote it up and signed it. Enforcement isn’t my side of the story.
You know who did hire me, though?
His little sister, a few months later. See, she was getting a raw deal. Some accomplices had told her that the thing she was doing was legal. Or at least that they could get away with it. But the Authorities found them, mid-heist (well, mid-going-to-the-hotel-pool-without-an-adult) and like a smart crook, she clammed up. Started crying too hard to talk. Then she got the giggles. It looked like a done deal. Full culpability.
But when her mom asked if she wanted a lawyer, she said yes. And I was no sucker: I’d seen panic giggles before.
Serious time: A week ago I witnessed some amazing parenting, and I need to acknowledge it. It’s hard to disengage when you’re angry. When your kid has done something personally and physically dangerous, and is laughing about it. There’s a reason I’m not a full-time parent: I have no idea how I’d handle that situation, and I suspect it’s badly. It takes a lot to call in your village when your child isn’t doing their best. It’s got to be so tempting to only present your family’s nice side, the side that says “we’re okay, we’re good, I’m doing great and it shows in my kids’ behavior.”
Instead, I got alone time with my client while her mom sat in the hall. And yeah, it took her a few minutes to stop crying. We sorted the rules: what was fair, what wasn’t, who’d told her what. Figured out her level of relative culpability. Talked about what was an appropriate punishment.
And like a lot of lawyers for adults, I found a teachable moment in there. You know what? It’s a lot scarier when it’s for a kid. I’ve taught adult men the difference between crazy and law crazy. Watched videos where my client explained how to cook crack to a confidential informant. But I’m not sure I’ve ever been as nervous as I was explaining to this client why her friends were confident that they wouldn’t get in trouble, but she couldn’t share that confidence.
Can you guess why?
It’s as American as apple pie, calling your lawyer. Lawyering up. And it can be critical. Do you know your rights? Do you really? At what point in the arrest process do you need to invoke your right to remain silent? At what point do you need to get a lawyer?
There are two separate rights when you’re being questioned. One applies to the entire interrogatory process. One only applies to the current line of questioning. Don’t invoke the wrong one.
A friend asked, last week, if my stance on the justice system had changed, since I work in reform. “There are no good cops in a bad system,” I replied. And I stand by my answer, although I’ve known good people who wanted to be cops.
In the end, my client gave her mom back the phone. We talked. I presented my client’s side of the story in a way that you can’t do when you’re the defendant and the person you’re talking to has all the power. And I’d like to think that we negotiated a deal that acknowledged my client’s culpability while also respecting the factors outside her control.
But it’s still weird to hear “wait till dad gets home” replaced by “do you need your lawyer?”
PS: all facts in this brief have been authorized for disclosure by my client to opposing counsel and the public.