Frequently Asked Questions

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What legal services would your firm provide for my department?

Our firm’s focus is getting expert legal guidance directly to officers on the street in real-time. The advent and prevalence of cellular phone technology (coupled with skilled police counsel willing to be available 24 hours a day) makes this concept practical and cost-efficient for both parties.

Our firm is much more than a legal hot-line. Our attorneys are available 365 days a year - 24 hours a day - to provide real-time legal consultation in the capacity of retained counsel.This means we represent our clients’ legal interests with the zeal, commitment, competence, and professionalism unique to the attorney-client relationship. And our commitment to a police agency client doesn’t end with a phone call for legal guidance. In appropriate cases we also assist officers with court preparation. For example, if we advise an agency on the subject of a vehicle search, we may followup by providing the officer with a testimony “tip sheet” to take to a suppression hearing or trial, setting forth the key case law or statutory citations upon which the firm relied to justify the officer’s actions at the time of his call. Such a tip sheet could be shared with the district attorney, and could include a check-list of relevant facts (to be introduced via the officer’s testimony) in support of the legal authorities therein cited. In uniquely difficult cases our firm may prepare a more formal “Memorandum of Law” suitable for the district attorney to hand directly to the judge in the event of a challenge. Our firm’s involvement with the officer’s search, arrest, confession, etc., serves to bolster the officer’s credibility with the court. Our goal is to make the officer not only more effective on the street, but more effective in the courtroom as well.

How do police agencies pay for your legal services?

Client agencies pay a yearly retainer for our contract services. The contract covers 365 days of direct telephone availability. Smaller agencies pay reduced contract rates. [Should the client seek additional legal services beyond the contract, such services may be billed separately.]

Can SR save my department money?

Absolutely. Among other considerations, a contract with our firm helps a police agency use its existing resources more efficiently. Consider: an officer makes an arrest of a notorious town criminal. If the evidence or confession is thrown out due to a minor legal mistake, and the criminal is thereupon set free, what was the value to the town of the many hours of police investigative and processing time invested? How much will it now cost the police agency (the town, the court, the citizens, etc.) to have this criminal again loose on the streets, committing (and fostering) more and more crimes and producing more and more investigations? Many, many cases are lost or “pled” to inappropriately reduced charges due to minor procedural errors. Our firm’s philosophy is to help the police client get the case right the first time, thereupon producing a savings in police manpower and administrative resources across the board. Add with this civil liability protection, and a police executive may see that these services make for a sound legal investment. A police agency client can realistically recoup its annual contract costs upon a single request for service. [Please refer to the “Illustrative Case Consultation” for specifics.]

How are your services different than those provided by my city or county attorney?

Our firm complements the services of the local city or county attorney, without seeking to duplicate those services. Under our contract, routine legal matters continue to be handled by the city (county) attorney, whereas matters requiring an immediate and specialized “police law” analysis are referred to us by telephone - 24 hours a day. This division of labor is both economical and sensible, especially for smaller agencies.

Can’t I simply contact my district attorney for help?

Yes, if the District Attorney is able to make such services available and accessible. Unfortunately, district attorney staffing shortages limit the availability of consultation services for law enforcement, even during standard business hours. Moreover, district attorneys have legitimate concerns with loss of prosecutorial immunity when serving in a police advisory role, and must occasionally be reluctant to do so. In any event, Smith Rodgers attorneys (1) seek to protect your legal interests while acting as your personal legal counsel; (2) specialize in a broad-range of up-to-date law enforcement legal topics; and (3) provide our Chiefs and Sheriffs with a single (client-only) phone number manned by an SR receptionist 24-hours a day. We are there when you need us.

How are your services different from those provided by a
full-time in-house police attorney?

The primary difference is cost. SR provides the collective services of our staff of expert police attorneys - 24 hours a day - at a fraction of the cost. Further, the police agency client pays no costs toward office space, phone, secretarial help, health care, pension, vacation, sick leave, and so forth. Naturally our attorneys are not on-site, but are nevertheless continuously available by telephone for immediate consultation. [Some police executives rather appreciate the circumstance that when there is no pending legal matter to tend to, a legal staff is not continuously underfoot.]

Isn’t “use of force” one of my most significant civil liability exposures?
How can your firm provide help here?

While uses of force are typically split-second decisions, many “bad” uses of force are the product of routine legal errors - officers in the wrong place, or attempting to do the wrong thing (say, in violation of the 4th Amendment). [Please refer to the “Illustrative Case Consultation” for an example of the protection we may provide.]

Should my department have a mandatory “call-the-attorneys” policy in our manual, requiring that my officers consult you automatically in specific situations?

No. SR prefers that police commanders use their discretion about when to consult us, thereby avoiding any possibility of a call-the-attorneys “bottleneck” or other impediment to the police function. Our services are merely an additional - and economically sensible - field resource for command and supervisory staff, a resource whose proper and occasional use can lead to “saved” cases and reduced civil liability exposure.

What if my officers call at 4:00 a.m. with a “stupid” legal question?

No such thing. Similarly, often our clients are already 99% certain of the correct legal answer before they consult us, but wish to double-check their thinking as a safety-precaution. These calls are fine as well.

What is a PLLC?

PLLC means that our law firm is organized as a Professional Limited Liability Company under Chapter 57C of the North Carolina General Statutes. Smith Rodgers, PLLC is properly registered with the North Carolina State Bar, the North Carolina Secretary of State’s Office, and fully insured.

What if my department doesn’t actually require much consultation
over the course of an annual contract?

Then our firm will congratulate your department on enjoying an uneventful, legally glitch-free year - a rarity in a profession as legally intensive as law enforcement. In fact, a police agency may think of our legal services in much the same manner as its other police equipment and resources: a special response team, bomb disposal truck, riot gear and tear gas ordnance - or for that matter, each officer’s individual service weapon. Each resource may not be called upon for service on a monthly basis, but there is no substitute for knowing that resources are within reach - and of the highest possible quality - when the need arises. [Again, an agency may recoup its annual contract costs upon a single call for legal assistance - see Illustrative Case Illustration for specifics]. In any event, with a standard retainer contract our firm will provide your command and supervisory staff with on-site legal update training of the highest possible quality and relevance, while keeping your staff apprised of late-breaking legal developments the year round.

We note in closing that, as a profession, law enforcement is unique from other professions in one respect that many police executives rarely consider: Other executives (be they in the insurance field, real estate, banking, securities, construction, etc.) have access to quality legal counsel at the very times they make their most difficult, high-liability decisions - during standard business hours, of course. In view of the high-liability, “quick-decision” nature of law enforcement, should a police executive be at even greater legal risk by virtue of his (or her) burden of providing services twenty-four hours a day, three-hundred and sixty-five days a year?

Smith Rodgers, PLLC, Law Enforcement Attorneys, P.O. Box 4803, Greensboro, NC 27404-4803