Alexis Austin on Ask the Expert with Steve Sleeper
Last week Attorney Alexis Austin joined Steve Sleeper on his podcast Ask the Expert to talk about her experience as a criminal defense lawyer here in Colorado Springs, as well as what to expect following an arrest and the impact COVID – 19 has had on the court systems.
Ask the Expert with Steve Sleeper – Featuring Alex Austin
Welcome to Ask the Expert with noted radio host Steve sleeper. Each week Steve interviews entrepreneurs and professionals and shares their intriguing stories of success and service. Now, here’s radio better and Steve sleeper.
Steve: Our guest today is Alexis Austin with the Right Law Group in Colorado Springs. Alexis is a former district attorney who specializes in all areas of criminal defense. Attorney Austin understands everyone makes a poor decision at one time or another. But in most cases, one bad decision should not change the course of your life. I began the interview by asking Alexis about herself and her firm.
Alexis: I’ve always had a passion for helping people but I ended up getting a dual major in undergrad for psychology and philosophy. And so the only logical steps were either to go into a psychology clinician program or law school so I chose law school. When I went through law school, I ended up getting out and I knew I wanted to be in litigation. I’m a very outgoing person I like to perform and I like to use my skills to advocate on other people’s behalf. And I applied to a number of different DA offices because my understanding was that the DAs office could provide in addition to the public defender’s, but the DAs office could provide me with that trial practice that I was looking for.
So I started off my career as a prosecutor. I worked for a couple of years as an intern and basically a baby prosecutor under the student Practice Act in Colorado, you can practice as a prosecutor if you’re supervised while you’re still in law school. So I did that in a few counties here. And then when I got out, I went to the Pueblo County District Attorney’s Office of prosecuting cases down there for a couple of years. Once I got experience down there, I was doing anything from DUIs to homicides.
And then I had some family circumstances that made me move to Colorado Springs or just about an hour north. And I was at the Colorado Springs District Attorney’s Office and the office here was a different feeling than I was used to. I didn’t have as much discretion. I didn’t have as much control over what I could do on my cases and how I could help people because I always viewed being a prosecutor as your job is to help the people and the people include defendants in the court cases. A lot of prosecutors don’t feel that way necessarily. They see themselves as only protecting the community but not also trying to protect the interests of defendants. So my views didn’t jive well with the office that I moved to here in Colorado Springs.
And around that time, there was a well-known defense attorney in town who was retiring for health reasons – he’d been in the practice for about 40 years. And he and I were friends and he asked if I’d be interested in taking over his partnership. So after about a year at this prosecutor’s office, I left to join this defense firm because I realized, with at least what I was seeing here in this county, I would be better using my skills to help defend a client’s rights rather than trying to help them get through the case from the prosecutor’s perspective. So I joined the firm here, and I had a partner at that firm. It was more of an old school firm. Things were done still with paper and pen. And, you know, it’s very much a handshake type of firm. And it was a family-oriented firm, which I really liked. But as I got in, I really started looking into technology. And I started looking at different ways to automate different firm processes, both to increase efficiency and to lower costs of the firm so that we could lower our prices for clients.
The issue that I faced was that a lot of what the firm had was the kind of this is the way we’ve always done it mentality, which isn’t necessarily bad, but with the ideas that I had for bringing in technology, it just didn’t mesh well with what was already existing. So after a while, I decided to branch out and for my own firm that was very technology-centered. And I sold my share of the partnership to a friend of mine that I went to law school with. And he’s still at that firm and doing really, really well. He’s a very good family guy, and he fits the mold of what that firm needed at the time.
So I opened Right Law Group in 2018. And we focus very much on being a law firm that helps our clients get on the right path, and we’re trying to do something a little bit newer than what the traditional criminal defense firm historically has done. For example, we don’t do the pretentious law firm named after an attorney. But it has nothing to do with which attorneys are at the firm, this firm exists to support the people who work in it and the people we work for. So we’re very much focused on doing things the right way and for the right reasons And when our clients come in, we try to give them a feel of what we’re about on that front. So we’re always telling them that our goal is to help you make the right choice and to move forward in the correct way. But if your goal is to just fight for the purpose of being contentious and not really caring about fixing your life, it’s probably not a good fit for you. Our goal is to help people actually work towards bettering their lives, rather than just getting people out of crimes.
Steve: What should I expect from a good criminal defense lawyer?
Alexis: So I’m going to give the stereotypical lawyer answer – it depends. I’ve always very much believed that your relationship with your lawyer is one of your most important relationships, especially when you’re facing criminal charges because it’s truly a relationship built on trust. You have to trust this person to have your life in their hands, quite frankly, especially if you’re facing higher-level felony charges. And you have to be able to trust that they have your best interest at heart.
So you also have to make sure that your philosophy in life lines up with theirs, which can be really difficult to determine just by doing a Google search looking for law firms. What I believe the most important aspect of the attorney-client relationship is, is making sure that you all have open communication and make sure that you’re on the same page moving forward. So for me and my clients, our goal is always to fix a wrong. I have a lot of clients who have DUI charges or domestic violence charges where it’s truly a one-time incident. There’s something else going on in their lives. A lot of my clients are veterans or current military service members who have just gotten back from being deployed. And they’re dealing with a lot of underlying issues such as PTSD. So they’re either self-medicating with alcohol and then getting a DUI, or they haven’t gone through the treatment and the therapy that they need to deal with what they’ve seen. And so they’re lashing out at family members and they have domestic violence charges because of that. So our goal in this attorney-client relationship at Right Law Group is we’re trying to make sure that we understand our client as a human being first and foremost, to understand what the motivating driving factors were before they picked up this charge so that we can use that to formulate the basis of our arguments moving forward.
Some people don’t want that – some people want a bulldog who’s just gonna fight the man and fight the case and fight everything just to fight. And I always tell them, if that’s the person you’re looking for, I am not that person. I’m Southern by nature, and I believe you get more flies with honey than vinegar. So I try to have a more collaborative approach and work with my client, and with the other side. I’m not working for the district attorney, but I’m making sure that they are doing everything that they can to support my client rather than fighting them and making things worse for my client.
Steve: What happens after a person is arrested?
Alexis: So that question was much easier to answer before COVID it’s up in the air on some things. So there’s a difference between being arrested and being taken into custody booked into jail. You can be arrested on a DUI charge – which arrest just means that the police physically have you in custody for a certain amount of time. And being in custody means you’re not free to leave. So typically you see ‘arrest’ as someone has been placed in handcuffs, they’re advised of charges against them, that they’re warned that they have the right not to speak and if they do speak, anything can be used against them. And then the case is processed into the court system.
But the question becomes with arrest, whether you’re actually going to be booked into jail or not. Generally, what we’re seeing on lower-level offenses, especially now, with all the health concerns that we have, most people are arrested – as in they’re placed in handcuffs placed into custody and advised of their charges and then released either to a sober party if it’s a DUI, or given a summons to appear in court if it’s a minor traffic ticket or minor offense. On more serious charges, especially domestic violence charges, in Colorado we have a mandatory arrest law, where someone who is accused of domestic violence is mandatorily arrested and taken to jail and they have to await a bond hearing. So they don’t even have a bond set until they’re seen in front of a judge. And the judge determines what the appropriate bond is set.
So traditionally, when we think of arrest when someone is taken and booked into jail, they are then set for a bond hearing as soon as humanly possible in Colorado, we have a rule that they have to be set for bond within 48 hours. And so they are brought before the judge and allowed to argue their case, only speaking about whether they’re a risk to the community, whether their flight risk, what kind of job they have to show that they’re stable, what kind of criminal history they have to show, especially for people if this is a first-time offense, showing that they’re not a risk, this is just one mistake they made and then they can argue for a bond and be released from custody once I get that bond.
Steve: You mentioned COVID and as we do this interview, we’re about five months into the pandemic, are cases delayed right now or are the courts open? What can you tell us about that?
Alexis: Lord, it is an ever-moving target. We’ve had a spike in our COVID-19 cases recently in Colorado Springs, our courts for a couple of months were completely closed down, meaning that no one was really allowed into the courthouse at all. Attorneys could get in, but most of them were appearing virtually. As of right now, we’re starting to see the courts open back up. Most of my clients who had cases set in April or May their cases were pushed back until August or September. So we’re seeing a lot more congestion in the court system because not only do we have the normal level of cases that we would have on a month to month basis, but we have a backlog of about two months.
So it’s a really stressful time for both the judges, the attorneys in court, and the clients because everything is just so congested and everything is delayed because we can only have so many people in the courtroom at a time, the jails can only bring over certain amounts of people so that they’re practicing social distancing – so COVID has had a huge impact. I’ve never seen this before. And I doubt we’ll see it anytime soon. But things are changing to the point where constitutional rights are being changed due to COVID. Where we haven’t had jury trials in three months. And so the right to speedy trial has been changed by our supreme court, at least our Colorado Supreme Court, where there’s no guarantee that you’re going to have a trial within six months as is normally guaranteed by our Constitution.
Steve: So we’ve talked about the the courts, how are you operating during the pandemic, how are you meeting with people, are your offices open, that type of thing?
Alexis: Well, like I told you before, we built this firm to be technologically advanced and we were very fortunate because of that. We’ve always been much more tech savvy, I think than the traditional law firm. And we’ve always offered consultations via video, Zoom chats, Gmail, we do a lot of phone consultations, we text with our clients. So it really didn’t change how we operate that much. We have an office right next to the courthouse, and we’re always available for in-person, but most people are more comfortable right now virtually, which I think honestly works better. Because we’re able to get on the phone much more quickly with potential clients, talk with them, help them get some kind of idea of what they’re facing, and get them scheduled and on the right path for dealing with their case in a much shorter amount of time than if they had to come down and actually be physically in an office.
So it hasn’t affected us too much. But I think in the way that it has affected the community at Whole I think it’s actually better for clients because the firms that are at least handling it the correct way, are getting to clients much much quicker.
Steve: Our thanks to Alexis Austin with Right Law Group in Colorado Springs, she can be reached at 719-249-7677.
Thanks for listening to ask the expert with Steve Sleeper. Join us next time as entrepreneurs and professionals share their intriguing stories of success and service.
Facing criminal charges in Colorado Springs?
If you have been arrested for a crime in the state of Colorado, you don’t have to battle the criminal justice system on your own. An experienced Colorado Criminal Defense Attorney will be able to help you navigate this complicated and stressful time of your life. Reach out today for a free consultation.