S.F. Public Defender Arrested for 'Simply Doing Her Job'

By Mark Wilson, Esq. on January 29, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

You may have the right to have an attorney present at your questioning -- until the attorney gets arrested for being present at your questioning.

Believe it or not, a San Francisco deputy public defender was arrested yesterday for allegedly interfering with police questioning. Or, as those of us in the criminal defense field call it, "Doing your job."

You're Being Arrested -- for Resisting Arrest

Attorney Jami Tillotson was meeting with a client at San Francisco's Hall of Justice when she learned that another client, who was waiting in a hallway after a court appearance, was being questioned by police. Tillotson immediately rushed to the hallway and confronted the officers, who said they just wanted to ask the client a few questions. Tillotson said they couldn't.

Police then said they wanted to take some photos of the clients. "I just want to take some pictures, OK, and he'll be free to go," Sgt. Brian Stansbury told Tillotson.

"I'm pretty sure that we're OK here. We don't need any pictures taken, thank you," Tillotson replied.

"No, you're not pretty sure," Stansbury said. "If you continue with this, I'll arrest you for resisting arrest."

"Please do," she said. Then, after police placed her in handcuffs, she reminded them, "I am still -- I am representing -- I am representing my client, here.

"There is no 148. I'm not resisting arrest. There is no 148," she added, referring to California Penal Code Section 148, which prohibits delaying or obstructing an officer. (In case you were wondering, Tillotson didn't resist a thing.) After Tillotson was led away in handcuffs, Stansbury took photos of her client.

You can see video of the incident here:

Tillotson was handcuffed to a wall in a holding cell for an hour while her boss, San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi, called San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr. Adachi was, rightfully, outraged. "This is not Guantanamo Bay. You have an absolute right to have a lawyer with you when you're questioned. Ms. Tillotson was simply doing her job," Adachi told the San Francisco Chronicle.

Maybe Leave the Law to the Lawyers...

For his part, Adachi wants an apology. It seems silly for an officer to tell someone she's resisting arrest even before she's arrested, but Penal Code Section 148 isn't limited just to arrests, even if that's its shorthand name. "Police are claiming lawyers are only allowed to counsel a suspect when they are being formally interrogated for a crime," reported San Francisco's KGO-TV. Fortunately, a police officer's opinion of the law is subject to review.

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