Each county in California has a jail or correctional facility to house people accused in criminal cases. In serious cases, bail is often too high. Some defendants may have no-bail holds stemming from parole, probation, or immigration status.

When you or someone close to you is in jail, it can be a scary time. You want to see your loved ones and discuss the case. However, you want to make sure you do nothing to make the case worse.

First and foremost, do not say anything about the case when talking on the jail phones because they are all recorded. I have seen too many defensible cases ruined by incriminating jail phone call recordings.

This has been especially true in domestic violence cases. When making a domestic violence arrest, the police almost always will obtain a no-contact protective order to prevent the defendant from contacting the “victim.” Of course, the defendant will promptly call from jail and violate the protective order, incurring further charges.

I once represented a man accused of throwing a hairbrush at his wife and hitting in the head. The defense was that it was an accident. The guy started calling home as soon as he found the jail phone, saying, “Susie?” “You’re asleep in your bed, but I’m here surrounded by Mexicans with tattoos on their necks…I’m about to be *%#ed any minute!”  He asked me later whether he had  used offensive language! The tape established not only that he violated the protective order, but also destroyed his defense.

Whether it’s a domestic violence case or any other type of case, don’t call the witnesses from the jail to tell them to leave town or that something bad may happen to them if they decide to testify against you. Don’t get your friends or relatives to do this either. Whether done on the defendant’s or anyone else’s initiative, such conduct sends clear signals that the case has merit.

Talking to jail personnel can also get an inmate into trouble. I had a 22-year-old client who was charged with annoying children, specifically two 15-year-old girls. He chased them into a restaurant bathroom and remained right outside until the cops arrived. He went on to tell a jail nurse she was pretty. That didn’t help his case much.

When going to see someone in jail, follow the jail’s visiting rules. These are usually available on the county sheriff’s website.  Whatever you do, don’t take drugs, alcohol, or cigarettes to the jail. I represented a man who was arrested and taken to jail. They searched him at the booking desk and found cocaine in his pocket.

Finally, use common sense and pay attention to that inner voice that tells you that it wouldn’t be a good idea to do something in desperation. If you have no clue, call a lawyer. After all, that’s why we’re here.

Naresh Rajan is an attorney in San Mateo County. Email nrajanlaw@gmail.com.

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