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Linda M. Callahan on Being a Criminal Defense Lawyer

"Those of us who defend people pulled over by police are engaged in a battle beyond that of any one client."

Briefly describe your practice.

Callahan Law, P.S., Inc. focuses on driving offenses.  We have offices in Seattle, Tacoma, Vancouver, and Shelton.

I began my legal career in the State Legislature, then became a Deputy Prosecutor for King County PAO. I left KCPAO in 1999, took a short sabbatical to enjoy summer on the Hood Canal, then decided not to leave. I started a Wills and Trust practice to serve the retired community on the Hood Canal, but when word got out that I was a former prosecutor, people came looking for help with DUI’s. Initially turning them down, I took on a few cases and eventually, it grew into a viable criminal defense practice.

In addition, every year I take a month or more off to update the Washington DUI Practice Manual, a Thomson-Reuters publication.

Where did you go to law school?

I attended the University of Notre Dame Law School as a single parent with two children. When looking at law schools, Notre Dame's 2nd-year study abroad option in London presented a unique opportunity for us to live abroad, so I chose Notre Dame.

What motived you to go to Law School?

Law is a second career for me. I had worked my way up the ladder into management at what is now Verizon, taking night courses to get my undergraduate degrees in Political Science and Public Administration. Eventually, I quit to go to school full time.  I took a few business law courses and did well. My professor, a local attorney, encouraged me to go to law school.  Before making that decision, I tried working in a law firm for a year, as a litigation assistant for Brown and Bain, an intellectual property firm in Palo Alto, CA.

When you went to law school, did you intend to become a criminal defense lawyer?

No, not at all. I was really surprised that my favorite courses were criminal procedure and criminal law. I didn’t think I would like these courses at all, but they were required. Fact is, I really enjoyed them and eventually decided that being a prosecutor might be the right job for me.

Have you ever been a prosecutor?  If so, what did you learn from that experience?

I spent two years as a Deputy Prosecuting Attorney in the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s office back when Norm Maleng was the boss. I made it to the felony trial team after being in district court, juvy and felony filing.  In juvenile court, I did not enjoy being a prosecutor--I began to feel conflicted about prosecuting children for being children. Granted, there were some serious juvy cases that needed to be dealt with in the system. However I found that, as a nurturing person, I didn’t get a sufficient degree of satisfaction out of incarcerating people for a career.

What convinced you to become a criminal defense lawyer?

As you can see, it sort of chose me. However, what keeps me going is what I am seeing as a state of increasing and pervasive power concentrated in law enforcement in this state. I visit my mother in California quite a bit, and I rarely see police cars patrolling the local streets and highways there. In Washington, I can’t drive I-5 for 30 miles without seeing several law enforcement vehicles.

I am seeing increasingly aggressive enforcement and prosecution of DUIs, while at the same time the protections of our constitutions seem to not apply to persons accused of that particular crime.

Those of us who defend people pulled over by police are engaged in a battle beyond that of any one client. Our efforts protect the rights of all drivers on our roadways. Sometimes it seems as though the trend toward giving police the unfettered power to stop, detain and investigate without just cause is growing due to media-fed hysteria over drunk driving. As police power grows, we see citizens losing their lives on simple traffic stops by law enforcement officers who are rarely held accountable for violence against citizens.

If people are going to have any rights at all, courts have to be persuaded to protect individual rights against overly aggressive law enforcement. The "driver's" door, more so than the "front" door, is the battleground where our rights are either being denigrated or defined today.

I’m not happy to be doing this, because I wish no one had to do it.  I wish that our rights were a "given" and not something we continually have to fight "tooth and nail" for.  Yet we are encountering the militarization of police in our streets. Threatening our peace, and our rights. I feel compelled to do this. If we give up the fight, law enforcement will have no check on its power and we will have fascism. I can’t let that happen without fighting back.

How did you get from wanting to do prosecution to feeling compelled to fight against the pervasive police power of the state?

When I left the prosecutor’s office, I was disillusioned with the justice system being inappropriately harsh with punishment often disproportionate to the crime. Being a prosecutor was an opportunity to get great experience in the courtroom, but I didn’t feel like the work "fit" me. Then as a non-government lawyer I began to notice that, although it was still me doing the arguing, I had less judges now who were willing to take my view of the issues. That was almost 20 years ago.  If you asked me then “are we living in a police state?” I would have said no, but now I’m absolutely sure that we are. The judiciary and legislative branches seemed to have a paternalistic view of law enforcement--maybe mirroring the public's erroneous view that if you do no wrong, you have nothing to fear from the police.

But I disagree. I had a hypothetical client, arrested for a DUI by a trooper cadet, while under supervision of his FTO. Neither saw the HC drive. He had pulled over to assist another driver who had been in a one car collision.  Based on the mere allegation of a bystander that HC smelled of alcohol, the cadet made HC do field sobriety tests on a rutted, washboard-like forest service road, and arrested HC based on the FSTs. Why not, the cadet needed practice, right? What is the harm? Well, at the police station, HC blew  .006.  However, instead of referring the case to the prosecutor, the cadet filed a DUI citation in district court and the court FOUND probable cause! Eventually, HC retained me and I got the case dismissed by threatening to go to the media to challenge the practice of police filing DUI citations in court with low BACs. But it was too late to save HC from losing his military career, and finding his life in shambles, merely for stopping to help a driver in distress.

Who are your mentors?  What have you learned from them?

My mentor is William "Bubba" Head, a DUI defense attorney from Atlanta.  I met him at the Harvard Law campus where he taught at a DUI seminar. At the seminar he received an award for being the nation's best DUI attorney. I introduced myself to him and his fiancé, and from there, we became friends. He taught me that I had to teach myself DUI defense, to invest in training opportunities to learn my craft and hone my trial skills.

Which case you’ve worked on are you proudest of?

In one case, a hypothetical client was arrested on a third DUI, but blew under a .08. The prosecutor refused to reduce, but I needed a reduction due to other legal issues HC faced. The new law said that the court or tribunal must “assume the truth” of breath test evidence, that it was admissible, provided certain threshold evidence was met. I wrote a 50 page brief, dropped it on the prosecutor’s desk, and told him “if you don’t reduce this charge, you’re going to be the prosecutor that has to argue against this in the Supreme Court, and you’ll go down as the prosecutor that lost the battle.”  The prosecutor did reduce that charge, but I used the brief many times afterward. Eventually I did take those issues to the Supreme Court, and although technically the case was "lost," the battle was actually won when the court, in City of Fircrest v. Jensen, held that courts may suppress breath test evidence under the rules of evidence.

To view Linda's website, go to www.DUI-Defender.net .

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