Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Don't cooperate or play informant with drug agents -- here's why.

For quite some time now drug agents with various state and local agencies have operated on a “bigger fish” mentality. They want to arrest up the food chain, they say. (Truthfully, I disbelieve cops want to go any higher than mid-level dealers, as I never see the big traffickers taken down. Why? They shoot back. Cops want the everyday user and the mid-level dealers in their clutches as users and mid-level dealers don’t represent a threat to police and their family the way a big trafficker would.)

The cops raid your house (usually because one of your friends is an informant) or stop your vehicle and find drugs and they “detain” you. They tell you “it’s not an arrest,” but it is. (The law says if you’re not free to leave you’ve been busted. It’s that simple.)

They use the old carrot and stick routine.

The cops have you in cuffs, usually in the back of their squad car. They begin the psychological pressure. They tell you you’re going to do 20 years or more in prison. They’re going to “make sure that you get maximum prison time.” They tell you you’re never going to see the light of day.

That’s the stick part.

Now, here comes the carrot. 

They suddenly soften their tone, and tell you that if you’ll become a snitch, an informant, if you “give us some good busts, all of this will go away. We’ll never arrest you. We’ll never press charges against you.”

You are terrified of going to jail, so they have you at a psychological disadvantage. You think, why not? If I give them some names, help them makes some busts, I’m off the hook! Right?

They sweeten the pot. They tell you they’ll turn you loose right now without arresting you if you promise to work with them. You see a way out.  You agree to work as an informant. The drug cops turn you loose! You’re free, but are you?

The truth is, you’ve just postponed your arrest, not stopped it. In fact, you’re about to make your situation worse.


Because the cops working drug interdiction today no longer live up to their word. 

They get you roped in as an informant. You give them good intel, you help arrange buys. You stick your neck out. You risk your life – and believe me if word leaks that you’re an informant you can very likely end up a target of drug pushers who will think nothing of silencing you.

The cops then say to you, “It’s not enough. You have to give us more. We need more names. We need more buys.” You’ve given them all you have. You’ve told them all you know. They’ve written down everything you’ve said and done for them in a file.

You begin to rethink your cooperation. Suddenly you’re way out on a limb and the cops are now making it clear they’re not happy with you. You panic. You stop working for them. They call and threaten you, give you ultimatums. Then silence. You hear nothing from the cops for weeks.

Then you get pulled over. There is a warrant for your arrest for the drugs the cops nailed you with originally weeks or months back. 

You realize right then you’ve been conned, lied to, tricked.

The cops take you to jail. You make bond. You hire a lawyer, or obtain a court-appointed lawyer. The prosecutor comes to the table with a file 20 pages thick of everything you’ve said or done as an informant, not to lessen the charge against you – but to prove you’re an even worse druggie that the original charge shows. In short, your cooperation will be used to enhance your prison sentence!

That’s right. After all you did to help the cops and get your butt out of trouble the cops are now using your cooperation as evidence against you!

How can this happen?

It happens because cops are allowed by law to lie to you. The courts have said so. It’s legal for cops to lie to gain advantage in the “war on crime.”

You fell right into their trap, made yourself look far worse and far more culpable than you are, and they pulled the rug out from under you – laughing at you the entire time.

Not only were they never going to drop the charge against you, they’re going to seek greater punishment using your cooperation as proof of your status as a big-time dope dealer.

So, why are they doing this?

Cops today have no integrity. They’re all about scoring busts and so they can thump their chests and claim brownie points for being a tough cop. Respect for the law among cops is at an all-time low.

I recently had an assistant district attorney testifying in a case in which we were trying to set aside what I believed was a wrongful conviction of a client on a drug charge. The client had been represented by another lawyer after his arrest. For an entire year he had worked as an informant for the drug task force until he had exhausted his ability to work with the agents. When he told them he could no longer provide any information, indeed word had spread he was informing, the drug agents had him arrested and he was sent to trial. Amazingly, all of the information he had voluntarily provided to the drug agents was now used against him to enhance his sentence.

When his former lawyer called the drug agents to find out why they broke their promise, they laughed at him. “He didn’t do enough,” they said.

This assistant district attorney was on the stand testifying and he let slip an important truth: It mattered not to prosecutors how much an informant cooperated – if the drug agents didn’t tell the prosecutors to drop the charges there would be no deal. In short, the cops can lie to people to gain their cooperation and then turn on the poor informant and the prosecutors don’t care.

“If the cops say they didn’t get what they want, I don’t care how much they cooperate,” this assistant district attorney said.

So, here’s something to consider: 

If you are caught with drugs, be smart. Stop talking. Don’t claim the drugs. Don’t say anything other than “I want a lawyer.” You have a 5th Amendment right to remain silent. Anything you say will be used against you – including anything you say thinking you’re going to cooperate and get out of the situation without an arrest.

Remember, demand a lawyer. The Supreme Court of the United States said recently that mere silence can be used against you. You have to demand a lawyer, too. So, demand a lawyer.

Then shut up. Say nothing. Nothing you say is going to prevent you from being arrested and everything you say is going to be used against you.

Once the cops have taken you to jail, make bond using a bondsman. Why? Cash bonds and property bonds aren’t always consolidated bonds that will carry you through the process. A bondsman will obtain a consolidated bond so you stay out while the trial is pending.

Then, call a lawyer. Do some research. Pick a lawyer with a track record of winning criminal cases. Hire that lawyer to win your case.

(Required by Alabama law: No representation is made that the quality of legal services to be performed is greater than other lawyers.)

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Alabama prisons dodging lawyers for inmates

The Alabama prison system is constantly in the news these days because of civil rights lawsuits over prison conditions, maltreatment of inmates by prison guards, and – in the case of Julia Tutwiler State Prison for Women – sexual exploitation of female inmates.

In the 20 years I have been practicing law, I’ve seen another change for the worse. Prison wardens and personnel have become impossible for lawyers to deal with.

It used to be I could see a client in prison with a phone call. I’d tell them I was a lawyer, the name and inmate number of my client, and I’d ask for permission to visit my client at a certain day and time. I was always met with cooperative, friendly responses. All I needed to do was arrive at the prison at the appointed time with my driver’s license and my ID card from the Alabama State Bar and I was in. It was smooth. It was virtually effortless. I saw my clients, handled my business with them in short order, and left with smiles and expressions of thanks for their cooperation.

In the past two decades that collegiality has evaporated. Now it’s virtually impossible to see a client in prison without going through a ridiculous amount of stalling, red tape, obfuscation, double talk, and deliberate “forgetfulness.”

The prisons want lawyers to call for a permission sheet, which is faxed (who faxes these days?) or emailed to me. I fill it out, copy my driver’s license and ID from the state bar and send it via email or fax back. I then get a notice I have permission to come to the prison. Sounds easy, right?

Not so. The administrative assistants for the wardens seem to have a system of ignoring lawyers down pat. They never call back. This month I called Tutwiler Prison on May 11, 12 and May 20 seeking a permission form to visit a client. No calls back. None. Nothing.  This week I called Bullock Correctional on May 18, 19 and May 20 seeking permission to see a client. At Bullock, I was promised the form on Monday. No form. I called on Tuesday, where an irritated staffer told me she’d send it Tuesday. No fax. On Wednesday, same thing. So, I called the office of the director of Alabama Department of Corrections. His assistant promised to get to the bottom of it. She called me back to tell me the staffer at Bullock would get me the forms “in plenty of time for you to visit.”

I’ve talked to other lawyers, some who have practiced longer than I have, and they inform me they have the same troubles. 

Apparently there is a “circle the wagons” approach going on at Alabama Department of Corrections. With so many lawsuits flying against the system, they’ve gotten gun shy about lawyers coming to visit clients.

None of that matters. Incarcerated people have the right to visit with their attorney whenever necessary. It’s the law. It’s part of the Sixth, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments.

(Required by Alabama law: No representation is made that the legal services to be performed are greater than other lawyers.)

Friday, May 8, 2015

Don't get legal advice from bondsman

If you are arrested, the first thing you will invariably do is try to get out of jail. That’s a good idea. (Remember not to talk to the cops or give a statement.)

You’ll call a bondsmen. That’s a good idea, too, because he’ll arrange for your release from jail. Unfortunately, there’s a downside. The bondsmen may try to tell you how to handle your case and that’s bad. That’s practicing law without a license.

Why do we care? Because bondsmen aren’t lawyers and the advice they give people as they bond them out is often so wrong as to endanger you.

Why? It’s simple. Bondsmen think that because they work in the criminal justice system – and often have years of experience writing bonds – that they know the law itself.

They don’t.

Let me give you an example: A guy who hired me for a possession of marijuana charge recently was told by his bondsmen to “just go to court and plead guilty because you’ll just get probation.” The guy didn’t want to go back to jail, because he’d get fired, and didn’t want to pay for a lawyer. So, he figured he’d take the bondsman’s advice and he’d be ok.

Thankfully, the guy’s wife had him seek out a lawyer and he called me. During our initial consultation he told me what the bondsman had said. I had heard it before. When I explained to him the ramifications of a guilty plea to marijuana, he was stunned.

I told him that in Alabama a drug conviction suspends your driver’s license. He was shocked. “But I have to drive to work and pay my bills.” I told him a drug conviction would prevent him from receiving some federal benefits. I also told him a drug conviction would prevent him from living in subsidized house. I told him that all employers now background check their employees and a drug conviction could impact his job. I told him a drug conviction requires mandatory assessment and attending and completing a drug treatment program.

“But, I’m guilty,” he said. “What do I do?”

I explained to him that there is a difference between being culpable and being guilty. The word “guilty” means you’ve been convicted by a court. The word culpable means you’re legally at fault, but that doesn’t mean you have to be found guilty. Every single day I help culpable people avoid being guilty people – with dismissals, diversions, pre-trial interventions, dismissals and not guilty verdicts. Bondsmen can’t do any of that.

Bondsmen don’t know how the system works, don’t have law degrees and a license to practice law, but they want to run their mouths and give people incorrect “legal advice.” They must think this makes them look “in the know.” Others want your money and know if you pay a lawyer you’ll struggle to pay the bonding company’s fee.

All bondsmen know how to do is fill out the bonding paperwork that gets a person out of jail.


If you’re arrested you need to talk to at least three good lawyers and then pick from those three which your gut instinct tells you is the one for you. Rely on your lawyer’s expertise to get you out of trouble, not your bondsman.

Oh, and I've been asked by several lawyers to add this to this blog: Bondsmen should never recommend lawyers to anyone, and vice-versa. You can't trust a bondsman's recommendation for a lawyer, as some lawyers give illegal kickbacks to bondsmen for the referral. This is illegal but it happens. The reverse is true, also. Some bondsmen give lawyers illegal kickbacks as well.

When a bondsman is asked for a referral for a lawyer or a lawyer is asked for a referral for a bondsman, the answer should always be, "I'm not allowed to make any recommendation by law." Any other answer should be considered as suspect.

Required by Alabama law: These recoveries and testimonials are not an indication of future results. Every case is different, and regardless of what friends, family, or other individuals may say about what a case is worth, each case must be evaluated on its own facts and circumstances as they apply to the law. The valuation of a case depends on the facts, the injuries, the jurisdiction, the venue, the witnesses, the parties, and the testimony, among other factors. Furthermore,,no representation is made that the quality of legal services to be performed is greater than the services of other lawyers.