fireside-chat-andrea-keith

Criminal Defense Attorney Reveals the Reality of Court

Transcript of the conversation with Andrea Keith I Criminal Defense Attorney

Alyssa Butler
Hello, everyone, welcome to Careful Security’s Fireside Chat. Looking forward to discussing, and chatting with this week’s guest, Andrea Keith with Keith law. Thank you so much for being here. Welcome.

Andrea Keith
Thank you so much for having me.

Alyssa Butler
And also, of course, Sammy Basu is here. Our boss and Sir, Careful Security, our great leader. But Andrew got back to you. Can you please tell us a little bit about what you do? Or maybe something that you’re working on this week? That would be interesting for us to hear?

Andrea Keith
Sure. So I’m a criminal defense attorney. I’ve been a criminal defense attorney for about 17 years. I specialize in domestic violence and sex offense cases and some of the heavier felonies. I’ve got a couple of murder cases on my calendar right now. I also do what’s called appellate work, which is basically if you don’t like what happens in the trial court and you want to go above, I handle those cases as well. So that’s a little bit about what I do.

Andrea Keith
This week, I’ve got a pretty bad mentally ill client, who’s just kind of struggling right now. So I’m working through the criminal process, which is always interesting with the mental health laws in California that have greatly changed over the years. I do feel like California is starting to recognize more that we do have a lot of mentally ill clients within the criminal system and trying to help them through that. And so that was kind of a rough morning a little bit for me this morning in court just dealing with some family issues and a mentally ill client, which which are quite a bit of my clientele that I have.

Alyssa Butler
Yeah, that must be tough. Do you have any tricks for you know, when you go home at night, kind of separating or self care to get your head in a better space?

Andrea Keith
Yeah, Alyssa, that’s actually a great question. A lot of criminal defense attorneys do burnout because it is a very emotional work that we do.

Andrea Keith
I know, for me, I take kickboxing and workout classes. And so you know, I can, I can definitely box my way out of any of the stress that I have throughout the day. I love my party box classes and everything that I do.

Andrea Keith
A lot of criminal defense attorneys go running, you know, just to get outside and get that fresh air. Sometimes they even do it during lunch. There is sometimes a lot of wine drinking, I know that that happens as well, just having a glass of wine at the end of the night. But I do think it’s really important, like you said, to really separate it and understand that this is a job even though obviously, I am very emotionally invested in my clients. And I do really love what I do.

Alyssa Butler
Yeah, I would think that makes you a good lawyer to be emotionally invested. But then there is that? Yeah, separation for your own sake. So at the end,

Andrea Keith
You gotta let it go.

Alyssa Butler
Yeah. What was your first job ever? I know you’ve been doing this for 17 years. But…

Andrea Keith
Yes, so my first job actually was working in politics when I was in college. So I thought I wanted to go that route. So I did a lot of interning with various organizations in Washington, DC, which is where I went to college. Those were kind of internships, that I interned for the public defender’s office in Washington, DC, which was also an interesting job, as I’m sure you can imagine.

Andrea Keith
I came home I did a lot of public interest work. And so I worked with clients with developmental disabilities, but that I wanted to go down that path. And I did work for a Ninth Circuit Judge so that the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal is the one step down from the United States Supreme Court. So I worked for Judge Ferguson, who has recently passed away, and then did other internships.

Andrea Keith
My first official getting paid job was actually at the public defender’s office in Los Angeles County. So that was my first attorney position that I took. I took that specifically to get a lot of trial work, frankly, under my belt. As you can imagine, in Los Angeles County, there’s a lot of trials. And so I did that for quite some time. I absolutely fell in love with it. I love the public defender’s that I worked with the district attorney’s, the judges. It’s a great location. I did that for about 10 years until I left.

Alyssa Butler
Wow. Well, that kind of tells us how you got to your current position. It sounds like you did. So basically, you wanted to get trial experience and then just fell in love with this criminal defense sector of the Law.

Andrea Keith
I did. My father was actually started as a criminal defense attorney before he became a family law attorney. So I joke that it was in my blood, even though I didn’t come to it till much later. But I love being a litigator. I love being in the courtroom. The courtroom sort of feels like home to me when I walk in. I love arguing all day with the judges and the prosecutors and everybody else and really advocating strongly for my clients. That’s my passion.

Sammy Basu
Andrea is I’ve never been to a courtroom, but does it look similar to what it looks like in the movies like, reminded of the Center for a woman?

Andrea Keith
Yeah, it does. I mean, if anybody watches “Law & Order” and “CSI” and all those shows, right. The courtrooms look very, very similar: You’ve got the court reporter that sitting there that takes everything down; you’ve got the clerk who essentially runs the courtroom; the judge comes out in a black robe, just like you see on TV. Then you’ve got the deputy; the bailiff that sits there, and they obviously run the courtroom, and it makes sure everything is in order. And then all of us attorneys that are running in and out throughout the day. So it does look very similar, that it doesn’t a movie or a TV show.

Alyssa Butler
Just a lot, right?

Andrea Keith
Yeah.

Alyssa Butler
A bit longer?

Andrea Keith
Yeah, and I will tell you, though, even though see me it looks similar. A lot of the things, obviously, that we see in movies and TVs is not actually the way it goes on in my world. So, the courtroom setting itself is similar. But everything that happens is very different.

Sammy Basu
How so?

Andrea Keith
And so a lot of times, obviously things are dramatized, right? When they’re on TV or the movie, those things don’t happen.

Andrea Keith
Sometimes I’ll be watching a show with my husband, and he’ll say, would that happen in court? And I’m like, never, never would that ever happen in court.

Andrea Keith
You know, I don’t just walk in on day one and have some beautiful argument and get a case dismissed. I hope it would happen that way. But, you know, there’s a lot of behind the scenes things, obviously, that happened in order to get there. There’s a lot of court hearings, necessarily a lot of discussions with the judge that would happen and so forth. You don’t just pull a random case out of the hat and everybody claps and you’re able to get the murder case dismissed. You know, this is not what happens in my world.

Sammy Basu
Wow. Do you have to do like…, I remember, you’re saying that you also helped with private investigation? So is that something that needs to be done as preparation for the cases? Or…?

Andrea Keith
So I have…

Andrea Keith
Yeah, I have a private investigator that works with me. Um, so I would say, you know, I have an arsenal of tools that I use for my clients:

Andrea Keith
So I do you have an investigator as one of those tools that I use.

Andrea Keith
I have experts that I consult with regularly that I use as well.

Andrea Keith
I have a bail bond guy that I work with as well, who can get somebody out of custody.

Andrea Keith
I have an electronic monitoring company that I work with directly.

Andrea Keith
I have a sober living program that I love that I work with directly as well. So I have a lot of different again, tools in my arsenal to help my clients depending on what their needs are.

Sammy Basu
Wow, what’s an electronic monitoring program? This is education for us?

Andrea Keith
Yeah, electronic monitoring is an alternative to jail, essentially. So rather than a client being in custody, it’s a monitoring program where they basically would wear an ankle bracelet pretty much. And they’re monitored throughout the day. Typically, you can’t go to work or go to school, sometimes we’re able to work that out. But basically, you’re in your house, usually most of the time. So it’s like jail in your house.

Andrea Keith
Most of my clients obviously would prefer to have jail in their house than have it in the actual jail cell. And sometimes, again, we can work out their work schedule, if it’s set ahead of time, you know that they can go to work from nine to five those hours and the 30 minute drive home. And so sometimes they are able to do that as well. But they’re monitored, essentially electronically, rather than being monitored in the jail.

Sammy Basu
Oh, that’s nice. Somehow. Is your husband part of the monitoring scope? Or … No, just kidding.

Sammy Basu
Ah. All right. Yeah. Tell us a story. Tell us a interesting story.

Andrea Keith
Yeah, this is one of my favorite stories, because everybody seems to like this. And I’m sure if this actor who’s now very famous, here’s this, I wonder if he will contact me.

Andrea Keith
So I had I was a very young attorney at the time and I had a driving under the influence case, a DUI, obviously, in my clients defense was that he was not the driver. And so my client was essentially arrested in his vehicle on the side of the highway asleep. In the driver’s side of the vehicle, which happens often sometimes with DUIs, we call them no driving defenses. So that basically means that the officers never actually saw him driving, which is one of the elements of the offense.

Andrea Keith
In those cases for me, personally, as a defense attorney, I always want to have the driver. So if I’m gonna put on that defensive trial, I want the actual drunk driver.

Andrea Keith
My client had told me that the driver at the time was an up and coming actor and comedian, and that they had all been out together. And the story was essentially that this gentleman who was very nice, was sober, and he drove my client’s vehicle (because my client couldn’t drive because he was too drunk), and that another individual a friend had driven his vehicle; and that they’re driving down the highway. And basically, this individual sees his car who’s being driven by somebody else, sort of swerving. And he says, Hold on, everybody stop. So the two vehicles stop on the highway, he tells my client, you go to sleep, I’ll be back, I’m going to drive my car home. And then I’m basically going to Uber, you know, or get a friend to drop me back, and then I’ll take your car.

Andrea Keith
And so during the entire pendency of the case, this individual was traveling, my investigator couldn’t get a hold of them. My client kept swearing over and over: he’ll be at the trial that testify, I promise. This is his story. This is what happened”. And so fast forward, we’re at the trial, and I’m not comfortable doing a trial with a witness I’ve never met before, obviously.

Andrea Keith
And so we’re at that portion of the testimony where this witness has to testify. And sure enough, I said: ” Your Honor, I’m calling Kevin Hart to the stand, true story”. And his heart was my witness in my DUI. And it was many, many years ago, where he wasn’t really Kevin Hart yet.

Andrea Keith
And so up, he walked, and he went over the jury, typical Kevin Hart, and he went over the judge, and he was absolutely amazing, and very, very funny. And I can remember, even at one point, you know, the prosecutor is cross examining him, and she’s trying to pull apart his story and, and he just kind of looks at her and is Kevin Hart way. And he says: “It doesn’t matter how many questions you asked me, I’m gonna tell the story the same way”. You know, and I got a I got a not guilty verdict in about 15 minutes. So Oh, that is my true story. Kevin Hart was my witness in my DUI. When he wasn’t really Kevin Hart yet.

Alyssa Butler
Kevin Hart saved the day. I love it.

Andrea Keith
Very funny and pretty amazing in court.

Alyssa Butler
Wow.

Sammy Basu
Oh, you should have more comedians as lawyers than…

Andrea Keith
Oh, he was great.

Alyssa Butler
Said actors and lawyers are very similar. And …

Andrea Keith
So I tell people that Alyssa, that I’m basically putting on a play. I mean, that’s what I’m doing. You know, I have a son who does mock trial. And so they put on a trial. And that’s very similar to what I’m doing. I mean, obviously, I have clients and their people, and their lives, and criminal cases greatly affect their lives. So I don’t want to downplay what’s happening to them. But, you know, it is very similar almost to a play that we’re putting on for the jury.

Alyssa Butler
Yeah.

Sammy Basu
Wow.

Sammy Basu
Andrea, you mentioned, you like to talk to your witnesses before they come to trial. So how does that conversation go? Like you, is just like… where do you meet? What kind of conversation you know?

Andrea Keith
Yeah, it depends. It definitely depends on the witness, like Kevin ignored me, until he was kind of go to trial.

Andrea Keith
I’m the kind of attorney and most people are, I’d like to be overly prepared, I want my witnesses to obviously be prepared for everything. I do have some witnesses see me like yourself who’ve, they’ve never even been in a courtroom before. So they don’t even know what to expect, what’s it going to look like?

Andrea Keith
I can explain to them things like the clerk is gonna swear you in, you’re going to raise your hand, you’re going to say your name on the record, you’re going to look at the jury, and so forth.

Andrea Keith
The problem with what we call lay witnesses or civilian witnesses that are not police officers, is police officers are actually trained in the academy on how to testify as part of their training. So they actually have like a mock courtroom that they go into; and they’re able to learn really how to testify how to make eye contact with the jury how to look at the prosecutor and look at the defense attorney.

Andrea Keith
And any of you (Alyssa, Sammy) could be witnesses to something, you’re not trained, you have no idea what you’re doing. And so you walk in terrified, scared, you don’t know the situation, you don’t know the questions that are going to be asked. And so a lot of times, my preparation is just that just getting the witnesses to understand what’s going to happen in the courtroom, how it’s going to play out what a courtroom looks like, who’s going to ask you questions.

Andrea Keith
And then obviously I tell them to tell the truth, but I do prepare them. You know, here’s the type of questions I think the other side may ask. Here’s the type of questions that I’m going to ask we go through everything. And then some of it is just cross your fingers that everything goes well when we walk into that courtroom

Sammy Basu
Did someone change their stories because of like, aggressive prosecution or cross questioning like they’ve

Andrea Keith
I’ve never had? No, I’ve never had anybody changed their story I have had, you know, some witnesses just get very, very nervous up there, understandably, when they’re under cross examination. I’ve had my own clients that have taken the stand which they don’t have to do they have a Fifth Amendment right to stay quiet to stay silent. But I have had them take the stand and obviously get quite frazzled by the cross examination that happens, you knok…

Andrea Keith
And then I’ll just ask them on redirect questions like You’ve never been in a courtroom before, you’ve never been asked questions. Are you nervous? Did you sleep? Well, last night? You know, have you did you eat this morning? I mean, some of my clients are doctors, let’s say, for example, are witnesses that, you know, they’ll have 72 hours of shift, and then they come in to testify. I mean, that happens sometimes as well. Are there other employees that they don’t have a typical nine to five job or there are mothers that have been up all night, you know, with a baby, and then they’re being asked to come in and testify. So I do my best to make sure that the jury sees the entire picture of the person that’s testifying.

Sammy Basu
Oh, wow, what kind of cases? Yeah, go ahead.

Alyssa Butler
And I was just gonna say the jury is also just normal people. I was actually just the four persons on a jury last summer. And it was fascinating. But I been a legal assistant, but that’s about my extent of a courtroom, you know. And so it was it.

Alyssa Butler
We’re all human in the courtroom, even lawyers. I mean, you’ve been doing it 17 years, but still, so that’s interesting to me.

Andrea Keith
Yeah. And, Alyssa, I’m glad that you said that. Because having a jury, so you’re supposed to have a jury of your peers, right. That’s how the Constitution was written. Yet, as an attorney, I get a snapshot of Alyssa Butler for five minutes that I’m able to question you. And when you think about the criminal process, you are essentially deciding in some cases like murder and other cases, if my client is going to spend the rest of his life in jail. Right?

Andrea Keith
Then you as Miss Butler, who’s never met him before, doesn’t know him. He doesn’t know a lot about him. There’s some evidence that’s excluded that say that I can’t bring in which our clients get frustrated with same thing for the prosecutor side. And so you’re seeing a snippet of whatever happened that night, and you’re being asked essentially to judge after the fact; you’re being asked to interpret and understand legal terms. Right, which you may not know. And then you decide my clients fate. And so…

Andrea Keith
The entire criminal process, it’s, it’s an interesting, complicated journey, I would say that we go down.

Alyssa Butler
Yeah. Yeah, but must keep you on your toes. Have you ever experienced any, I guess, are these all real world crimes? Or have you encountered any cyber crimes? Since that’s what we do here?

Andrea Keith
Yeah. So there are quite a bit, unfortunately, of cyber crimes, as you know, right, that we do encounter. There’s a lot of identity theft and other things, obviously, that go on. And I do feel horribly for those people. I mean, I myself have had, you know, some cyber issues that we’ve gone through with Chase Bank and other things that have happened, you know, with our finances.

Andrea Keith
So I definitely know what it feels like, you know, from the other side of it. And there are a lot of cyber crimes, unfortunately, that do go on. Usually those cases… Usually, there’s resolutions to them pretty early, because there there is a lot of paper trail and different things, obviously that go on when you’re dealing with the cybersecurity stuff. It is sort of rare for those cases to go to trial, but it does happen.

Sammy Basu
Andrea shifting gears like, what I mean, you are a fighter for social justice, it appears to me and you know,

Andrea Keith
They hope so.

Sammy Basu
You want to… What what is it in the judicial system that you think needs? Reform? Or like what, you know, what keeps you going? Yeah,

Andrea Keith
So there’s a lot. And unfortunately, there’s a very human aspect to what I do, which is what I tell people, there’s a very gray aspect to what I do, it depends on the judge, it depends on the prosecutor.

Andrea Keith
A lot of my clients don’t understand that. And that’s sort of the unfortunate or fortunate part of what I do. You know, the law can say x. But depending on the judge that I have in the courtroom, depending on the prosecutor that I have on the case, they may interpret things differently. They may do things differently. The law is not really black or white.

Andrea Keith
Social injustice, I would say it really depends again, on the courtroom, it depends on the location. I practice in Los Angeles, Ventura, and Santa Barbara, those are three completely different counties.

Andrea Keith
Ventura is a very conservative County, you know, Santa Barbara and L.A., obviously are not as conservative. So there’s ups and downs to both.

Andrea Keith
Ventura is what we call a master calendar court house, which is just different.

Andrea Keith
L.A. and Santa Barbara has a direct calendar. So that part’s different. But there is a lot of social injustice.

Andrea Keith
I feel like a lot of the judges just see my clients as a number. You know, it’s just another person on their docket. Unfortunately, the courts are very foul, they’ve got a lot of cases they need to move through. And my job is to make sure that they know that my clients name, you know, and what my client’s situation is and what happened to him and that there’s a life, and there’s a story, and there’s a person,, and a family, and a child, and a mother, and a friend, and whatever it is, you know, behind that number.

Andrea Keith
So that’s really my job. That’s how I see my job is to make sure that they’re not just another number that’s being pushed through the system.

Sammy Basu
Ah, Yeah, I know, there’s a lot of work pressure, right? Attorneys, lawyers and judges, lots of cases to push through what… You know, sticking a step back: What’s like the most common social injustice that bothers you?

Andrea Keith
I would say probably racial injustice. I mean, I do feel like there’s a lot of racism, unfortunately, within the criminal justice process, says, you know, I do feel, and I’m white. But I do feel like a white individual that walks through the door with a family, you know, that supporting them, and so forth is going to be treated differently.

Andrea Keith
I also feel like there’s a lot of gender bias. I mean, there’s a lot of bias against males. That’s why I do what I do in the domestic violence in the sex offense realm. Especially with the me to movement and everything that’s gone on, you know, there’s just, they’re never going to believe the man no matter what, and they’re always going to believe the woman as the victim who walks through the door. And unfortunately, that’s just not the case anymore. I mean, I’ve had a lot of cases where the women have lied, they’ve admitted to lying, you know, different things have to happen. There’s there’s an angry axe that I’m sure all of us have had an angry axe at some point, you know, our children are involved. And so there’s a nasty custody battle, you know, that’s going on, which can get super heated, as I’m sure you understand.

Andrea Keith
And, you know, people don’t tell the truth. And people lie. And unfortunately, in my world, there’s in the domestic violence in the sex offense realm, there’s a lot of bias against men.

Alyssa Butler
Yeah, and that’s you mentioned me to movement and but then going to the racial injustice. So me to change it in a certain way. Have you seen it change for the better in like with the George Floyd stuff in the in the wake of that movement? Have you seen any improvement in racial biases, biases?

Andrea Keith
I have, there’s a lot of policies in California that have changed. So for example, we now have the racial justice reform act. And so there’s motions and so forth that we can file in court. If we do see a racial bias, the laws in California have definitely changed.

Andrea Keith
The problem that I see within the system is it tends to sort of do these huge swings one way or another. And I’d like to find some sort of middle. And so every time something happens, the pendulum sort of swings that way, you know, and then something happens and the pendulum swings back that way.

Andrea Keith
And so there’s there’s a lot of things that happen within the criminal justice process that I hope down the road, we can find a middle ground, because I don’t think it needs to be one extreme or the other. Obviously, to me, Justice comes somewhere in the middle.

Andrea Keith
You know, there are, for example, you talked about the George Floyd movement, you know, there’s a lot of police officers, and I hope there’s some reformed form within the police officer movement, but at the same time, there’s a lot of really good police officers out there too, you know, that do a lot of good things. And so that’s where again, I see these pendulums that they just keep swinging, you know, one direction or another. And I’d hope that they’d settle down at some point in the middle.

Sammy Basu
Great perspective. Yeah.

Sammy Basu
All right. I mean, yeah. Any other fun story you want to wrap up this conversation with? I mean, I have a side question. I mean, I’ve heard that people are put in jail more often than they should be like, this is another. I don’t know if you can talk about it. And it’s like, in prison system is like, you know, it’s like a business or it makes sense.

Andrea Keith
The prison system in California is pretty bad. I will be honest, I know that there’s a lot of prison reform, I think COVID really brought the issues to light. And so there’s a lot of prison reform that’s happened after COVID, because it really showed how overcrowded the jails are.

Andrea Keith
California has a big system of enhancements. And so you can look at your base term, let’s say could be three years, but because of all the enhancements, you’re looking at 30 years in custody, it’s kind of crazy in California. And there’s not a lot of reform. And so they’ve changed it to, you know, if a client, for example, is doing well in their context, they can earn more condo credits, so that they can get out if they’re doing certain camps, and so forth.

Andrea Keith
So they’re trying to reform the system in California, I think you still have so many conservative old school judges that are still used to the old ways. And so there tends to a lot of times be a fight kind of between the judicial branch, obviously in the legislative branch, and so even though the legislator is changing those laws, the judges still want to do it the old way. Right. And so the judges still want to put people in custody forever on these enhancements and so forth. And then the legislator, change the law a little bit again, and then they’ll take away the discretion and then the judges fight back. And so there’s a lot of that that goes on.

Andrea Keith
But yeah, the the prison system in California definitely has a long way to go.

Andrea Keith
Oh, I have a two more question and I will’s keep quiet after that, one is, what’s your dream from here on? Like, what’s your dream for your life, your career? And what’s your favorite trial movie?

Andrea Keith
Oh, that’s a good one.

Andrea Keith
And I’m gonna start with the trial movie. So I love a few good men. I know, it’s so cheesy as a defense attorney. But the reason I love it is, I actually used it with one of my clients recently the famous line, right, where Tom Cruise says, it’s not what I know. It’s what I can prove. But I do actually run into that a lot with clients. So I feel like everybody should see a few good men. Because it’s not, it’s not what I know. It’s not what I feel. It’s not what I believe, you know, it’s what the evidence actually shows me.

Andrea Keith
And so unfortunately, you know, with a lot of my clients, they’ll say to me, Well, I didn’t do this. And I didn’t do that, and the cop slide or this happened. And while I feel very sympathetic, obviously, and I want to fight for them as much as I can. It’s really about what I can prove, unfortunately, right. And so I love that movie, because I do think it’s very clear about defense attorneys and what we can and can’t do within the system. I also love the end of the movie where, even though they get off, there are still consequences. And so with a lot of my clients, for example, my clients sometimes lose their job, or they lose their family, or you know, their cases in the media, or they’ve spent 1000s and 1000s and 1000s of dollars, you know, even though they’re found innocent, and so financially, they’re struggling.

Andrea Keith
And so with a lot of clients, it’s not just about the criminal case, there are consequences, versus for them at the end. So that I’ll go there, that’s my favorite.

Andrea Keith
In terms of my dream, I would actually like to teach towards the end. So I would really love to be a law professor or college professor and teach criminal law, criminal procedure, everything I’ve learned appellate law, to the next generation, you know, I hope that people love it as much as I do. I hope there’s other women that go into domestic violence and sex offenses because I think that’s really important. Um, so that’s ultimately my dream.

Alyssa Butler
I love that I think it’s, it’s so important to see women and more, you know, traditionally male roles. So I think that would be great for you to be a teacher and pass on that knowledge.

Andrea Keith
Thank you.

Alyssa Butler
I’ve enjoyed this chat so much. So interesting. I know we could talk to you for hours but you are a very busy woman. So thank you, but would you end with giving us just like a little nugget of wisdom that is helped carried you throughout your career?

Andrea Keith
Yeah, I would just say actually, Alyssa, the way you started which is fine balance, you know, as best as you can.

Andrea Keith
So try to turn it off. You know, there is always work and especially in my work, you’re going to be emotionally attached to your clients. But I can do this work longer because I do go to the kickboxing classes and I do enjoy the time with my family. I don’t burn out, you know, and so just make sure that you turn it off and you really find that work life balance, which I think is so important.

Alyssa Butler
I agree. It’s a marathon not a sprint.

Andrea Keith
It is I really enjoyed this. This was great getting to know both of you and talking to you. I appreciate it

Alyssa Butler
you as well. Thank you for taking the time to speak with us and thank you for all you do.