The McCoy Law Firm in Cartersville, Georgia, is expanding! We are happy to welcome former Assistant District Attorney Jana Allen to our criminal defense team. We sat down with Ms. Allen to get to know her. Find out how her work as a prosecutor can help you defend against an unjust criminal conviction.
You’ve had more than 17 years of experience in criminal law. What do you love about your work? What keeps you coming into the courtroom on these cases day after day?
I did not plan to be a lawyer when I first went to college. My original intent was to be a high school math teacher. However, after my first college courses, I found my heart for service was leading me toward the fields of political science, government (local and international), and criminal justice. There are so many opportunities for service in our society, and each of us has our own niche; mine just happens to be serving others as a lawyer.
I was drawn to criminal law, at first, due to my interests in criminal justice courses in college. I viewed criminal law as the area that impacts citizens’ lives the most since it affects their liberty interests. I relished the opportunity to ensure that justice was accomplished, to every extent possible, in each case that crossed my desk. It did not matter whether justice dictated a criminal conviction or a dismissal of criminal charges. What mattered was making the best decision I could possibly make, consistent with the evidence, in every case. That is what the Constitution, my oath, my duty to the Court, and my personal moral code required.
What keeps me going back into the courtroom is my devotion to and admiration of our system’s rule of law and my desire to serve others by guiding them through the criminal justice process (which can be very scary and anxiety-inducing) and by advocating their interests. I want to be a voice for others who may not feel that they have a voice or who may not know how best to speak up for themselves.
Before joining the McCoy Law Firm, you worked as an Assistant District Attorney in the Cherokee Judicial Circuit (serving Bartow and Gordon Counties) and the Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit (serving Chattooga, Dade, Walker, and Catoosa Counties). What made you “jump the fence” to criminal defense? What is different about defending cases instead of prosecuting them?
Having worked in a District Attorney’s Office for so many years, I had always imagined that I would be a career prosecutor. I truly loved being a prosecutor, because it allowed me to make just decisions in cases that would be consequential to every person involved. I tried to remember that each file that crossed my desk was a situation involving real people -- both victims and defendants -- in difficult predicaments. I strived to treat each case and person with the respect they deserved.
While I loved the opportunity to do good that being a prosecutor provided me, I saw defendants who did not understand the process, had no advocate, and needed help navigating the criminal justice system. Many did not even realize how much they needed that help. But as a prosecutor, I could not advise them or fill that role for them. It was my duty to advocate the interests of crime victims and the State of Georgia.
Having joined The McCoy Law Firm, I now have the ability to help those persons charged with a crime who need an advocate to help them understand the system and to make the best choices for themselves. I am a firm believer in the U.S. Constitution, the Georgia Constitution, our rule of law, and the rights of all people. Every person has a right to a zealous advocate to protect his or her rights. Regardless of what side of a criminal case an attorney is on, that attorney should be faithful to the Constitution and protective of the rights secured by the Constitution.
You spent your first years as an attorney practicing business litigation for a private law firm in Atlanta. What brought you to Cartersville, Georgia?
I am originally from Trion, Georgia, which belongs to the Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit -- the first DA’s Office where I worked. When I graduated law school in May 2001, I was hired by a large law firm in Atlanta, where I had previously worked as a summer associate. I believed that I needed to seize that opportunity while I had the chance because it would never come again.
When I left Atlanta and moved back home, I started with my first DA’s Office. I was there for 6.5 years. During my time there, I met my husband, Jamie, who had been assigned to the Dalton Post with the Georgia State Patrol. When a close relative became sick and was hospitalized we moved south so we could assist in her recovery. After about 15 months of caretaking, we moved back to North Georgia. That is when I found the job at the DA’s Office in the Cherokee Judicial Circuit, covering Bartow (Cartersville) and Gordon (Calhoun) counties.
I still remember my first drive into Cartersville. I vividly recall admiring the beautiful view in front of me. Cartersville was a big city compared to my hometown of rural Trion, Georgia. For a small-town girl like me, Cartersville had so much to offer right at my fingertips. I was pleasantly surprised by all the offerings and conveniences in Cartersville, and I loved that this location allowed me to work in a fulfilling job close to my hometown and to my family.
What brought you to work with Lance and Sharon McCoy at The McCoy Law Firm? Did you know criminal defense attorney Lance McCoy from your time as a prosecutor?
I met Lance McCoy early in my career at the Cherokee Judicial Circuit DA’s Office. We were on the opposite sides of several cases. Lance was always a respectful, honest, and professional defense attorney. I always thought of him as one of the best attorneys in the area, not just for his skill and knowledge, but for his kindness and respectful treatment of others.
When I got to know Sharon McCoy I discovered that she and I had very similar legal backgrounds, interests, and priorities. I was very impressed to learn that she had spent years developing a keen expertise in Elder Law and Elder Care Planning. I look forward to learning from her and assisting her in this practice area.
I ended up at The McCoy Law Firm thanks to a family member who was a client of the firm. The McCoys have allowed me to develop a better family/work balance that prioritizes my husband and my two beautiful girls. I reached out to the firm at the exact moment the McCoys were looking for an associate attorney to hire. I will forever consider my hiring by The McCoy Law Firm to be Divine Intervention. And, for that, I am extremely thankful!
You’ve had over a decade and a half of experience in the criminal courtroom. In that time you’ve handled everything from speeding to sex trafficking. Do you have a favorite type of criminal case? What makes a case interesting to you?
I have never thought of any particular type of criminal case as my “favorite,” especially considering that I have spent a good majority of my time prosecuting serious and extremely consequential felony cases. In many of those cases, no matter the ultimate result, someone connected to the case would almost always be left bearing lifelong scars, whether visible or not. For me, though, one glimmer of hope in those difficult cases was the privilege I had to play even a small role in seeking justice for children and other vulnerable victims who had suffered as a result of another’s wrongdoing. Helping those who literally could not help themselves was fulfilling beyond words.
Another positive area of criminal work was witnessing persons who had once freely admitted wrongdoing and humbly accepted their consequences come back before the court years later to seek early termination of their sentences because they had greatly excelled in the performance of their sentences. It was always a joy to witness persons who had truly bettered their lives. This type of early termination hearing was a bright spot among what could sometimes be dreary work.
Finally, a favorite part of my criminal law practice was having the opportunity to ensure, to the best of my ability, that the rights of every defendant I encountered were protected and that every defendant with whom I interacted was treated fairly. To me, such assurances were not just required by law, but were also moral imperatives. I specifically recall trying a murder case, and at the end of the proceedings, even after the jury returned a guilty verdict on malice murder, the defendant openly thanked all courtroom personnel for everyone’s professionalism and fairness toward him. That was a “favorite” moment!
Representing criminal defendants every day can be tough. Do you have a legal philosophy or a personal calling that keeps you energized to advocate for your clients?
Although I am new to criminal defense, my knowledge of the criminal justice system is top notch. I have lived and breathed criminal case analysis and prosecution for just shy of half of my life. My nearly 17 years as an Assistant District Attorney makes me an even more effective advocate, giving me a perspective that not many criminal defense attorneys -- even those with a couple of years in a prosecutor’s office -- have.
As an almost-career prosecutor, I never thought that I could represent criminal defendants. However, I eventually realized that the principles that motivated me as a prosecutor to seek justice through fairness, diligence, and vigilance were the same principles that motivated most criminal defense attorneys in their representation of their clients. These common motivating principles stem from our great U.S. and Georgia Constitutions and from a shared adherence to the rule of law. If we don’t have strong, knowledgeable, skillful advocates on both sides of the system, protecting the rights of all parties involved, then our carefully-designed criminal justice system cannot function as it should.
When Georgia residents are looking for a criminal defense lawyer, they want to know they are hiring a person, not just a lawyer. What can you tell potential clients about yourself outside the courtroom?
I am first and foremost a Mom. My girls are my life; they are everything good in my world. I also could not be prouder of my husband, my partner in life, who helps me in everything I do and in everything our family does (not to mention he is one heck of a pilot)!
I am also an animal lover! When I was growing up, my career goal was to be a veterinarian, but I soon realized that I could not endure the pain of not being able to help or save a suffering animal. My late Uncle Steve used to tease me that, as a prosecutor, I would recommend a much harsher sentence for someone who hurt an animal than someone who hurt a human!
I believe in honesty and kindness, always. Always help someone if you have the power and the ability to do so. Even if it seems that something good you have done has backfired in some way, it doesn’t change the fact that you did a good thing because it was right to do it.
Do you have any final thoughts for potential clients of The McCoy Law Firm?
After almost 17 years in a District Attorney’s Office, it was time for me to make a change -- not because I did not love my work or my coworkers, but rather I needed to make a lifestyle change for my family. The McCoy Law Firm offers me the opportunity to branch out and practice in different areas of the law, and the firm’s strong focus on family first and quality, individualized attention and service to each client allows me to fulfill multiple personal career goals. I am very thankful to be a part of such a wonderful, family-focused, exceptional-quality law firm with equally wonderful coworkers.
My personal calling is to serve others with the legal knowledge, skill, experience, and ability that God has blessed me with. Every client will receive personalized service and attention from an experienced and empathetic advocate. We understand the stakes involved in your criminal case, and we will always strive to achieve the best result for you that we can. And, while the process plays out, we will take on the burdens, stress, anxiety, and uncertainty that this process can entail so that you can focus on your family and on all the other things in life that make you happy and satisfied.
Jana Allen is a criminal defense attorney at The McCoy Law Firm, in Cartersville, Georgia. She represents defendants facing misdemeanor and felony charges throughout northwest Georgia. If you have a court date scheduled, please contact Criminal & DUI Law of Georgia so we can begin working on your case right away.