By: Jacquelyn Carpenter
It was about 11 o'clock on Saturday night when the phone rang. The name on the caller identification was familiar, Brent. My curiosity was piqued. After all, it was unusual for Brent to call this time of night, especially on a Saturday. I had known him close to six years, and I knew him to be a person of immensely good character. Over the years, I came to think highly of him. He had been a loving husband to his wife, a God-fearing Christian, a good listener, and a family man. All in all, a good man. But why was he calling now?
Too curious not to answer, I picked up the phone, trying to sound nonchalant in my greeting. Much to my surprise, Brent, who had called me, was cautious. Within seconds, I discovered the reason. The words are burned in my memory, "Jackie, I think I need to hire you." There was no mistake here. Some people buy a crappy car and want to sue, calling the only lawyer they know. Some get a traffic ticket and want to fight it as though it were a murder charge. But Brent knew the nature of the cases I handle. I closed my eyes and responded; my response hinted that I understood I wasn't going to like the answer to my question. "Brent, what is wrong?" His response was more unthinkable than him being the subject of a criminal investigation. "Melissa called the police and said I was molesting Alyssa (5 years old) and Adrianna (3 years old)."
Shock and disbelief were immediate. I knew without him saying it that he was not just not guilty, but rather innocent. I stalled, my mind needed to accept the circumstances. So I asked him to repeat himself. In the meantime, I told myself to put on my invisible hat that says "LAWYER" and get to work. A man's life and liberty were at stake.
Throwing on clothes, I did what I've never been able to do before. I met the client and went to the scene while it was still a scene. (I called to verify the police were still present so there would be no problems.) I was so nervous I was shaking; I couldn't mess this up. With my bar card and driver's license in tow, I approached a bulky sheriff standing guard outside the house. I had no script, and, because of the hour, I had sought no counsel of my own. I was out here winging it off the basics. And my friend Brent would reap the repercussions. I explained to the officer, and later the detective, that I was an attorney representing the husband. I stated we were not there to impede their investigation, in fact, we welcomed it. However, we could all agree he would need to be out of the house in the meantime, and he needed some basic things from the house. He had literally left with nothing but the clothes he was wearing and his car keys.
That night, the girls were medically checked - no injuries of any sort would be noted. That night, the police would validly have concerns about the statements and demeanor of the wife. Days later, the detective would question whether drug use and/or psychiatric issues were to blame. The forensic interview would have no outcry. A case that opened for CPS would be closed in less than a week. The police would do the same. Me? I would breathe a sigh of relief, in part because I didn't screw up, but mostly because Brent would never be handcuffed and have to risk a jury getting it right. Notably, the police got it right, which was a relief as well.
With every client we take, there is a burden on a criminal defense attorney. When that client is a friend, the burden is greatly amplified.