Thursday, May 14, 2015

County of Nevada v. Superior Court (Cal. Ct. App. - May 14, 2015)

Lawyers are generally free to meet with their clients in jail (or prison) in person, without the barriers or other sorts of restrictions that sometimes accompany "regular" visits.  I like that.  My (admittedly limited) experience meeting with clients in prison is that it's infinitely more convenient and effective to actually sit next to them than it is to have to talk over the phone through a glass partition.

That said, I freely admit that if a prison wants to do otherwise, that's only a fairly limited restriction on the right to counsel protected by the Sixth Amendment.  I could imagine a plethora of reasons why a prison might be compelled to limit attorney contact.  Maybe they're worried about attorneys handing over contraband -- as I'm sure they do on occasion.  (Though the better alternative here would simply be to check the inmate after the visit.  Something I'm confident prisons do.)  Maybe they're worried about escapes.  Or assaults.  Low risks, to be sure.  But if there's evidence of it, I could see allowing a prison to constrain the ways attorneys meet with their clients.  Either generally or in specific cases.

But I nonetheless agree with Justice Mauro here.  The County of Nevada's blanket restriction on attorney contact visits -- making all counsel talk over the phone and through glass partitions -- is way overbroad.  Especially given the pathetic nature of the facilities there.  They've got crappy phones that you basically have to scream into to be heard.  No soundproofing on the prisoner's side; only porous cinder block.  A little mail slot for passing over documents that needs to be individually opened upon request by the jail staff.

That's no way to meet with a client.  That's not conducive to the preparation of an effective defense.

When, as here, there's not even a strong reason for limiting contact visits with attorneys, the fact that it's slightly easier on prisons (or jails) to not have to "worry" about in-person attorney visits simply is not enough to justify the restriction.  Yes, I agree, it's a little more burdensome to actually let lawyers meet with their clients like real people.

But lots of rights under the Constitution are like that.  A little burdensome.  But worth it.