In late 2013, Vicky, a single mother of two, was driving her then-boyfriend to an acquaintance's house in a small town north of Salt Lake City. Vicky (whose name has been changed to protect her privacy) thought her boyfriend was going to ask about some money owed to her, but, as she waited in the car, things went off the rails: The boyfriend entered the house without permission, tore the place up, and threatened its owner.
“Two minutes later,” as her attorney, Shantelle Argyle tells it, “the police pulled up behind her, ordered her out of the car—guns drawn—and took her to jail, where they interrogated her for about six hours about what they thought was this master drug cartel activity that was going on.” Vicky, who had no criminal record, knew nothing other than that she was soon charged as an accomplice with felony burglary, as well as simple assault. "She still didn’t even know what had occurred inside the house,” Argyle says.
Normally, Vicky’s legal options would have been pretty limited: She might have qualified for an already overburdened public defender, or she could have paid hundreds of dollars an hour—thousands in total—to a defense attorney. Instead, she paid $40 an hour—$678 in total—to a nearby firm in Salt Lake City, Open Legal Services, launched by Argyle and Daniel Spencer, two University of Utah law graduates, a few weeks earlier. After significant negotiation and fact-finding, Argyle got prosecutors to agree to a fair deal: They dismissed the felony charge outright, and Vicky pled to the misdemeanor assault charge because she knew that her boyfriend had a temper. She’s complied with probation since, and will be eligible to have the misdemeanor expunged in a few years.