Client Death Prompts Public Defender to Speak Out

Shelby County Assistant Public Defender Jacinta Hall (middle) speaking at an event at the University of Mississippi.
Shelby County Assistant Public Defender Jacinta Hall (middle) speaking at an event at the University of Mississippi.

The lawyers of the Shelby County Public Defender’s Office do not often share client stories publicly.  The attorneys in our office are bound by a code of ethics that discourages lawyers from discussing details of a case publicly.

Today, we have a rare opportunity to share a firsthand account of the difficult journey one of our assistant public defenders, Jacinta Hall, took with her client.

Her story was first published on the website of a new national organization  — the National Association for Public Defense (NAPD.)  Hall, a former assistant public defender in Mississippi, is now a Gideon’s Promise attorney in our office. But like many dedicated lawyers, she keeps up with some former clients long after the attorney-client relationship ends.

Recently, she discovered that a young man awaiting trial since 2012 — a 21-year old whom she believed to be wrongly accused —  met a horrific end during a riot . . . while awaiting trial in a Mississippi detention facility.

“He wasn’t supposed to be there. He should have been home in 2012. I called his mom and she thanked me for working on his case and for him. She sounded strong but said that she has been told her son was beaten so badly that he’s no longer recognizable, all because of the system.”   — Jacinta Hall, Assistant Shelby County Public Defender

Read Hall’s entire account here.

Hall originally shared her story in a listserv used by members of Gideon’s Promise, a program based in Atlanta that provides training and support for public defenders practicing in the South.  The founder of Gideon’s Promise, Jonathan Rapping, wrote this email to comfort Hall and her colleagues. His response was also published on the NAPD site:

“Our clients are drowning in injustice.  They sink a little more each day.  Their hand is reaching out grasping for anyone who will grab it and try to pull them to safety.

Most lawyers (in fact, most people) position themselves to never see the outstretched hands.  They live comfortable lives with nice things, and can pretend the injustice is not right outside.

Others actually see the outstretched hands and choose to ignore them.  They watch them sink out of existence every day.  They participate in the process that ensures they will drown, and lose sight of their role in the injustice.

Then there are the very special few.  Public Defenders. You guys.  You seek out those hands.  You grasp them, hold them, work to pull them to safety.  You often cannot succeed.  Your clients are so frequently swallowed in injustice.  But you are by their side as it happens.”  – Jon Rapping, Gideon’s Promise

Read Rapping’s full comments here.

You can learn more about the National Association for Public Defense by clicking on their website.  We also encourage you to like their Facebook page and follow them on Twitter.