Stacey M. Washington, Attorney and CounselorAttorney and Counselor
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Parents, college kids and confidentiality

More often than not, it's a parent who contacts me first after learning that their son or daughter has gotten into criminal trouble. The child is a young, adult living and working on his/her own or away from home studying at the University of Michigan or Eastern Michigan University. In either case, the parent is understandably upset and concerned about many issues. But, the parent usually pays the legal fees.

The parent summarizes the story and the charge (i.e., Minor in Possession, Possession of Marijuana, Operating While Under the Influence of drugs, etc.) The parent is more often than not angry with the child for exercising poor judgment. There are also feelings of confusion about what to expect in the legal process. In most cases, neither the parent nor the child has had to hire a criminal defense attorney.

I listen to the parent with as few interruptions as possible. I'm a parent of a soon-to-be college student and understand the worries well. I also understand the value of having someone hear your story.

Although I do not give legal advice to non-clients, I briefly explain the process. In every instance, I explain a very critical fact - once I'm hired, the child is my client not the parent. Therefore, any communication between me and the child/client is confidential. The technical term is attorney-client privileged. Unless given specific consent by the child/client, I cannot discuss the legal situation with the parent. I will even ask the parents to leave the room so that I may speak privately with the child/client. The purpose of the privilege is to encourage the client to speak freely and assist the attorney is effective representation.

If I violate the privilege, I could lose my license to practice law. I'm not willing to involuntarily lose my license. Therefore, I honor the privilege. However, because I'm a parent, I strongly encourage the child/client to be open and honest with the parents. It helps the family dynamic. It can sometimes help me more effectively represent the client because there may be issues that only the parent is able to articulate to me. Most of the children/clients gladly consent to allow me to talk to parents. In many instances, they have already told Mom and Dad the truth.

In rare instances, there are things the child/client tells me not to share with Mom or Dad. Those things are usually embarrassing in some way - things that come out after the child/client have gotten to know and trust each other. I honor the client's wish but I also strongly encourage him/her to take a deep breath and tell the parents. I remind them that parents have a way of learning the truth. I also remind them that their parents love and support them - the fact that the parents call me and/or foot the bill is huge evidence of that fact. Parents get angry but usually get past it in a reasonable amount of time. At least, that's how it is with me. At the end of the day, I still love my kid.

Always consult a qualified, criminal defense attorney about the specific facts of your case.

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