Yes, I know I need a lawyer
November 11, 2012 7:53 AM   Subscribe

My niece is incarcerated in Lancaster County PA, and I'm trying to get her help from NY. Can you help with lawyer recommendations, or PA programs, or any knowledge of the PA criminal system?

Niece was arrested/convicted for DUI some years ago. She went to one of the classes, didn't pay any of the fines, didn't contact her parole officer for over a year. Recently, she was in the car with a friend, and the friend was pulled over, and they ran her name as well, and found out all about this. She's been in jail since October 31st, we just found out via another family member on Facebook.

Yes, husband & I know, she's made mistakes. Not everything can be easily fixed. Unfortunately, she's had a bit of a rough life, depressed, and not helping herself at the moment. Obviously, this isn't going to help matters. What can we do, to help her out, what resources are available, how can we help find her an attorney or a program to get her on the right foot while we are five hours away? I want to make sure that our interests are protected as well; I'm not heartless, but I'm afraid if I pay bail or some other restitution, I may be on the hook (rest of bail?) if she doesn't complete the sentence, or skips classes again (nope, I am not that knowledgeable about restitution beyond the idea that if someone skips bail, the full amount is coming from someone). Would an attorney be able to keep her interests and my interests separate, where she gets what is best for her, and I'm not on the hook beyond lawyer fees? Is there a "prison guidance counselor" system that we can help get her started in?

If you prefer to advise quietly, just ask me to memail you.
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (5 answers total)
IANAL, but here are some basics: you need a criminal defense lawyer who is licensed to practice in PA.

There is going to be a conflict of interest issue if you pay for a lawyer for her (the conflict is between her interest and your interest) - there is always a conflict of interest issue if person A pays for person B's representation. It's usually, but not always, possible to resolve this, but the lawyer will be able to explain it all to you, and then you can make an informed decision about whether you want to pay for a lawyer for her. A competent lawyer will make sure you are informed and understand any risk you are taking.

If it was me, I would arrange a consultation with a couple different criminal defense lawyers licensed in PA (phone consults are okay), lay out the situation, and ask for their recommendations.
posted by insectosaurus at 8:29 AM on November 11, 2012

Memail me.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 8:58 AM on November 11, 2012

If you decide to bail her out, you will in fact be on the hook for the bail money if she doesn't show up for any and all court dates. There are two ways to pay bail: 1) you can go down to the courthouse and pay the entire amount, which will then be refunded to you after she has made every court date and completed all her requirements and 2) you can pay a bail bondsman approximately 10 - 15% of the total bail and they will get her out. If she then skips on any dates, you'll have to pay the bail bondsman the remainder. So, if you're going to do it, be sure you can afford to lose that money. However, that said, I would try to get her out if I was you. I don't know about PA but in NC she could be in there for many months - yes, months - awaiting trial and I don't, personally, have any faith whatsoever in the healing or even the scared straight properties of incarceration.

As far as restitution goes, no, you will not be on the hook for that. That is her responsibility. If you choose to help her pay it, the court will be happy to take your money but if you make, say, one payment (it's usually done on a monthly payment basis) and don't make another, they'll go after her, not you.
posted by mygothlaundry at 9:06 AM on November 11, 2012

Do you mean probation officer? Parole is for people who have been sentenced to and released from prison.
posted by rhizome at 9:09 AM on November 11, 2012

There may not be much you can do to get her out. People doing time for violation of probation or parole usually aren't eligible for bail (which is pre-conviction release). If she's in jail for non-payment of a fine, payment of the fine may or may not entitle her to release, and paying the fine might not be in her interest in any event if you are hoping she learns a lesson. (Although, yeah, the "scared straight" properties of modern incarceration are certainly subject to question.)

To get the quickest and cleanest summary of where she stands, I'd start with the clerk of criminal court and the prosecuting attorney office where she's in jail. Either should be able to tell you where to get her record and figure out what her situation is. If neither will do this for you (not unlikely, alas), the county should have a lawyer referral service, and for a modest sum (certainly less than $1,000, hopefully much less) you should be able to get a local criminal lawyer to research the situation and write you an email summarizing exactly what your niece's situation is, and how you might help. (The right lawyer to do this should be able to tell you off the cuff precisely what (s)he will do this and sound very confident and precise about the process; someone who will have to research how to do this, isn't the right lawyer to hire.)
posted by MattD at 3:42 PM on November 11, 2012

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