I was arrested when I was in Law School. It shaped my entire legal career.

September 30, 2020 by Sabah Khalaf

Like most of my clients, I’ve been arrested. It was a scary, confusing, unjust experience that shaped my legal career. Here is my story.

When I was in law school, I went to Dallas for OU/Texas weekend with some friends. It was a Thursday night. We were headed home and my friend was driving. When he tried to back into a parking spot, his car collided with a cab.

The cab driver was angry and after arguing for a bit, my friend who was driving, left to avoid dealing with him. I wanted to do the right thing, so I stuck around with my friends to try and resolve the situation. When I tried parking the car properly, the cab driver got angry with me too. As I exited the car, the cab driver maced me in the face. I yelled for one of my friends to call the police.

A couple of patrol officers arrived and asked each of us about what happened. While telling his version, the cab driver told them that I pushed or punched him. Because of this, the officers said they could either arrest both of us for assault and battery or let us figure it out on our own. We both opted for the latter.

Then, a detective arrived and the tone completely changed. He wanted to arrest somebody for something, and that day it was going to be me. After a rush judgment of the situation he tried to coerce me to admit I was driving. I told him I was not the driver and that fact could be corroborated by witnesses. He didn't care. He arrested me. When I asked why, he ignored me. He simply cuffed me and stuffed me in the back of his car.

I was taken to jail, processed, and left in a holding cell with a few other people. I asked if I could use the restroom and was ignored by both the detective and jail staff. I was never given anything to eat or drink and was not given any phone calls. I was the last one they released that day after about 12 hours.

I was frustrated, upset, and concerned about what was going to happen to my future. How would this unfair arrest affect my education and my plans to become a lawyer? Unfortunately, the challenges didn’t stop after I was released from jail.

My friends picked me up from the jail and took me to a convenience store so I could get something to drink after 12 hours without water. While I was paying for a couple Gatorades I spotted a business card for an attorney on the checkout counter.

I called that attorney and told him about my arrest. He quoted me a fee I thought was pretty cheap and since I was in law school and on a tight budget, I hired him to help me. He told me he would take care of the upcoming court date and would be in touch.

He didn’t appear in court to represent me and a warrant was issued for my arrest. Since the budget lawyer didn’t do what he promised, I decided to take matters into my own hands and represent myself. This generally does not work well for people, but I was a law student and had just been burned by someone who I thought would help me.

I showed up for my new court date in my best suit, trying to appear confident despite being incredibly nervous. When my name was finally called I carefully disputed the allegations. The judge told me the case would be dismissed. With a sigh of relief I left the courtroom.

The actions of the rogue detective and the budget lawyer had real consequences for me. I had to report the arrest to the law school and the Oklahoma Bar Association so they could determine if I was fit to practice law. In addition to the pressure of studying for the bar exam and finishing law school, I was concerned that I might not be permitted to practice law even if I passed the exam.

All this because of an erroneous arrest for a situation that never should have happened. Thankfully, I passed the bar and was sworn in shortly after.

Injustice in our legal system is something I see on a regular basis. My experience of being arrested and dealing firsthand with the impact helps me relate to my clients. I’ve literally been there and done that. I’ve been through it and I know how uncomfortable, scary, and confusing it can be. Having someone with experience who can represent your best interests is critical in a tough situation. I want my clients to know that I’m on their side and my job is fighting for them.

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